Horizon Europe to fund research on genome editing in agriculture


Horizon Europe is to allocate €5 million (a small part of a total of €1.83 billion that is to be spent in 2021/2022 on Horizon Europe’s sixth cluster on food, bioeconomy natural resources, agriculture and environment) on projects aimed at understanding the benefits and risks of genome editing technologies in agriculture over the next two years, according to a leaked draft work programme.

The move is in support of the ‘Farm to Fork’ plan to reduce the use of fertilisers by 30 per cent and turn 25 per cent of agricultural land over to organic farming.

Plans for the €5 million call come after EU agriculture ministers called on the Commission to enable the use of “new innovative ingredients and techniques” to boost sustainable food production, once they are shown to be safe for humans, animals and the environment. Also, last October, French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and her collaboration partner Jennifer Doudna, were awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry “for the development of a method for genome editing.”

But actually, precision breeding of plants with gene editing technologies cannot be used in the EU, following a 2018 ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which founds genome editing is subject to the 2001 EU directive banning genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The UK government view is that organisms produced by gene editing or by other genetic technologies, should not be regulated as GMOs if they could have been produced by traditional breeding methods. Research stakeholders have been calling on the EU to lift restrictions on genetically modified crops, to allow the use of genome editing, which need not involve the introduction of foreign genes. According to the report, the policy change would help Europe develop more productive, climate-friendly, and resilient crops, and bring the EU up to date with recent scientific developments. While agriculture ministers expect the Commission to complete a study of the status of novel genomic techniques under EU legislation by April, the Horizon call is still asking researchers to align their proposals with existing EU laws, including the infamous ECJ ruling of 2018.

A €15 million call will be reserved for projects developing innovative digital tools tailored to the needs of small- and medium-sized farms, and the Commission is also planning to allocate €230 million over the next two years on projects addressing the EU’s push for a ‘circular economy’, by significantly reducing waste and promoting continuous recycling of natural resources.

The projects are expected to improve material selection and product design, but also to promote new value chains and business models focused on the upgrade, refurbishment and remanufacturing, of products to reduce waste.

For further information visit: https://sciencebusiness.net/framework-programmes/news/horizon-europe-fund-research-genome-editing-agriculture