New Genomic Techniques – Sustainable tools to face climate change?

FFA2021 Solutions Workshop Pre-read

Monday, May 17, 2021

Learn more about the recent developments on New Genomic Techniques and why they may become an important tool to tackle climate change and support the targets in the Farm to Fork Strategy with our FFA2021 Solutions Workshop pre-read blog.

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their breakthrough work in developing the CRISPR/Cas9 toolkit for genome editing. This technology, along with similar developments in the field of new genomic techniques (NGT), has extraordinary potential for scientific development, including in the field of agriculture.

However, the July 2018 ruling of the European Court of Justice has classified products obtained through the use of NGT as falling “by principle under the GMO directives”. Given the harsh level of restrictions faced by developers as it concerns bringing ‘classic’ GMO-derived plants on European markets, this judgement has caused European legislators to (re)consider how these tools can best be legally brought to market even though the current situation remains uncertain.

In light of the ECJ ruling, the Council requested an updated study from the European Commission that outlines both the state of play regarding the scientific developments in the field of NGT, and proposed follow-up measures that could be considered. This study has recently been published.
As the state of play in the field has advanced considerably in recent years, including plant products that could have the potential to contribute to several long-term European policy goals, including the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Green Deal, as well as the broader UN Sustainable Development Goals. Although the European Commission has relatively wide discretion where it concerns legal remedies to allow broader European applications of NGTs, there are clear political and societal hurdles to clear.

One of the most vital tools to overcome these hurdles is to demonstrate the practical advantages of NGTs and to alleviate societal concerns. With promising developments in terms of increased disease resistance, drought tolerance, better nutrition, and a reduced need for inputs such as fertilizers and crop protection products, NGTs could play a significant role in delivering greater sustainability to European and global agriculture if properly developed, legislated, and distributed. There are further – though still hypothetical – advantages to the broadening of scientific development and market placement by smaller companies (given the overall lower costs of NGT development when compared to ‘classic’ GMOs) that would allow for greater competition in the field of seed breeding.

During the first part of the discussion, we will have a dialogue about the potential upsides that NGT could bring to European agriculture, specifically where it concerns the EU’s long-term aims of agricultural and climate sustainability as embodied in the Farm to Fork Strategy as well as the Green Deal. How can these tools be placed in the hands of farmers and what advantages can (and should) be demonstrated in the field.

In the second session the discussion will be focused more specifically on the potential and role that NGT can serve in the fight against climate change particularly where it concerns the specific challenges of Southern European agriculture; reduced water access, increased temperatures, soil erosion and desertification and more.

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