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Study Confirms New GM Crops Won’t Fulfil EU Sustainability Goals

There's no proof that gene editing has made any contribution to drought tolerance or pathogen resistance – or will do any time soon. 

Grand claims are made for the ability of gene editing and other new GM techniques to produce crop plants that improve the sustainability of our farming and food systems. A study published in January 2022 analyses whether these claims stand up – and finds that they don't.

The researchers examined the EU's sustainable development goals, linked them with relevant plant traits, and reviewed existing research and field trials with gene-edited crop plants for evidence that their intended traits were able to fulfil the sustainability goals. The researchers gave a particular focus to the sought-after traits of drought tolerance and resistance to fungal pathogens.

Drought tolerance

Regarding drought tolerance, the researchers noted that this is a complex genetic trait involving the interaction of many genes and that resilience in the face of drought stress is largely environment-dependent, with soil and weather conditions being the most important factors.

The researchers pointed out that drought tolerance is one of the most widely investigated traits in both older-style genetic engineering and new GM techniques ("new genomic techniques" or NGTs) but "thus far no NGT-based plants with drought tolerance traits are available on the market". They wrote, "Despite the long history of drought research, also classic transgenic plants with drought resistance traits are rare on the market — in the period from 2015 to 2019 only three have been newly approved or marketed."