The European Commission (EC) has put forward a proposal to update European Union (EU) rules to reflect new gene editing techniques, Science Business wrote.

Under the proposal – officially submitted earlier this month – the EU’s rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would no longer apply to plants obtained using techniques such as CRISPR, as long as the modifications made were comparable to those that could be achieved using conventional breeding, the 6 July report said.

“The Union risks being excluded to a significant extent from the technological developments and economic, social and environmental benefits that these new technologies can potentially generate, if its GMO framework is not adapted to new genomic techniques [NGTs],” the report said.

“…The Union’s regulatory framework should be adapted to make NGTs subject to the appropriate level of regulatory oversight.”

Scientists had been calling for change for years saying that mounting evidence had shown that gene editing could safely make agriculture more efficient and help advance the EU’s sustainability goals, the report said.

However, the proposal was likely to be opposed by environmental groups that would like the 2001 blanket ban to be retained, Science Business wrote.

According to the report, the proposal separates NGT plants into two categories: Category I and Category II.

Category I covers plants that are comparable to those that are conventionally-bred. The Commission proposes limiting the number of modifications that can be made to a plant to 20.

In this category, NGTs make changes that are possible with conventional breeding, where plant characteristics are crossed and selected, but where using gene editing will speed up the process and will be more precise. This should accelerate the development of crop plants that were more resilient, pest-resistant, produced higher yields and required less pesticides, the report said.

Category II covers plants with more than 20 modifications obtained through the use of NGTs, which would continue to fall under GMO rules.

The proposed rules were part of a broader package for the sustainable use of natural resources, which the Commission said would promote investments in agricultural biotechnology and enable faster marketing of innovative products, Science Business wrote.

In its proposal, the Commission said it would be important to maintain a high level of protection of human and animal health and of the environment.