EU animal breeding companies have welcomed a report published by the European Commission that they hope could pave the way for genome editing to be used commercially in the EU.
The study on New Genomic Techniques (NGTs), which alter the genome of an organism in plant and animal breeding, concluded that the technology has the potential to contribute to a more sustainable food system under the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy.
It also finds that the current GMO legislation, adopted in 2001, is ‘not fit for purpose for these innovative technologies’ and is hampering research in the EU, with most development taking place outside the EU.
The Commission will now start a ‘wide and open consultation process’ to discuss the design of a new legal framework for these biotechnologies.
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “With the safety of consumers and the environment as the guiding principle, now is the moment to have an open dialogue with citizens, Member States and the European Parliament to jointly decide the way forward for the use of these biotechnologies in the EU.”
Genome editing has the potential to deliver a range of benefits in plant and animal breeding and for wider society, the report said. It has, for example, already been used at research level to breed pigs with resistance to PRRS and African swine fever.
But, while the technology has been approved in some parts of the world, regulatory barriers under current GMO legislation have stifled its use in the EU.
EU animal breeders, represented by EFFAB, and animal genetics researchers, represented by FABRE TP, welcomed the study’s findings.
Research institutes, companies, cooperatives and associations of EFFAB and FABRE TP that are working in animal breeding and reproduction in Europe are ‘all convinced that novel animal breeding techniques (NABTs) like genome editing can provide efficient additional tools to increase the sustainability of the animal breeding sector’ they said.
But they said they were ‘also aware of the fact that we must keep learning and investigating NABTs and their effects’ and stressed that NABTs like genome editing also deserves a place on the EU Research agenda.
Ana Granados Chapatte, director of EFFAB, said: “We call for a fair and open dialogue between researchers, companies, authorities and the citizens of Europe. We must create safety data and new legislation based on science in order to bring more solutions for both breeders, farmers and our society.”
Defra Secretary George Eustice launched a consultation in January on changing the laws in England to allow genome editing research to be used to produce beneficial crops and livestock.
NPA senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale welcomed the Commission’s report.
“This could be a really positive step forward because European legislation on this is the most restrictive by far – with the UK and other countries also looking at the policy around genetic technologies we hope that we’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunities these technologies offer and there will be more cohesion globally,” she said. “The big question is, however, whether, at EU and UK level, they can agree on a sensible new regulation.”