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Are GMO crops net-positive for the planet?

Weather that has brought vineyards to the UK and Denmark may sound welcome. In reality, it is a harbinger of how climate change is rapidly altering the agricultural landscape across Europe.

Food security is now one of the biggest problems connected to climate change, so creating a more robust global food system is critical. After a summer of droughts and extreme flooding, Europe has had a severe taste of what the future holds.

The extreme weather has resurfaced the debate around genetically modified food (GMOs). Previously skittish about GMOs, European officials are starting to warm to how they could help mitigate an impending food crisis. Until recently, Europe has had strict regulatory guardrails that were costly for biotechnology companies to navigate.

In June, the EU announced plans to relax regulations around GMOs — the proposal is to take a lighter approach to ‘gene editing’ plants to help crops withstand extreme weather conditions.

Gene editing differs slightly from genetic modification, though it currently sits under the same regulatory umbrella. Gene editing requires splicing together the most advantageous genes from a single species. For example, genetically engineered rice, dubbed ‘scuba rice’, is already used by farmers in Asia. The rice can withstand being soaked in water for weeks if there is intense flooding, created using traditional cross-breeding techniques.

However, genetically modified foods usually mix genes from different organisms. For example, ‘golden rice’ is created using genes from a soil bacterium mixed with a daffodil to enrich it with vitamin A. Plants created using ‘unnatural’ gene editing ( cross-breeding that would not occur in the natural environment) still need to undergo a rigorous authorisation process under EU legislation. But Greenpeace isn’t convinced and believes the regulation could open the door to poorer GMO regulation. Their EU GMO campaigner Eva Corral says: “The EU must keep new GMOs regulated to make sure they pose no danger for nature, pollinators or human health.”

So, what role do GMOs play in the future of food security? Could gene editing and even GMOs prove essential to surviving climate change? Join the debate; we value your views.

While none of the C5KF companies currently create GMOs, you can learn more about the technologies they are using to improve global food security here.

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