Harmony in the Fields: Genomic Techniques, Sustainable Agriculture, and Global Regulatory Dynamics


By Maciel Silva and Leticia Assis Valadares Fonseca

The worldwide agricultural sector is changing with the integration of New Genomic Techniques (NGT), making a substantial contribution to global food security and sustainable agricultural practices. Often associated with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), a clear distinction is crucial for a full understanding of NGT.

GMOs involve altering genetic material by introducing genes from one species into another, aiming to promote resistance to pests or improved nutritional quality. In contrast, NGTs enable precise gene editing, offering changes to the genome without necessarily including new genes from the same or different species (transgenesis).

As NGTs, advanced molecular genetics, and gene editing techniques include Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), transcription activator-like (TAL) effector nucleases, or Zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs), among other substances. Notably, these sophisticated techniques induce genomic changes without always resulting in a transgenic organism.

A crucial aspect of NGT lies in its regulatory scenario, where debates have arisen in Europe, while countries like the United States already have clear and operational laws. The country adopts the principle of substantial equivalence, as set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to authorize the trading of GMOs. This principle involves comparing genetically modified foods with their conventional counterparts. Brazil, through the National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), has been normatively addressing these issues since 2018, following almost the same principle.

The Impact of Genetic Advancements in Brazilian Fields

Genetic advancements have become an essential part of Brazil’s research portfolio, focusing on precision in crop enhancement. The outcomes include resistance to pests, climate adaptability, nutritional enrichment, and waste reduction. These advancements are in line with broader goals, such as reduced pesticide use and losses, thus ensuring food security and safety pillars.

The benefits go beyond, with lower use costs and a competitive environment, especially with strong public involvement in introducing new varieties to the market, providing significant returns for global food security. Moreover, Brazilian farmers are hopeful that oligopolistic systems governing the supply of new plant varieties can be weakened with the effective implementation of NGT.

European Regulatory Decisions on NGT and Local Farmers

As a major player in global agriculture, European regulatory decisions hold sway, not only impacting global trade but also influencing the bloc’s farmers and setting standards for non-European producing countries. While NGTs currently adhere to similar rules as GMOs, the European Commission contemplates defining categories. They propose defining a simplified assessment and registration process for crops derived from NGT, as long as they are equivalent to natural vegetables. GMO configurations would undergo the stricter analyses already applied in member States. Nevertheless, the current proposal includes labeling for any use of NGT, and organic production would be denied access to these technologies.

As member States negotiate the law’s final version, the European Union’s decision, somewhat belated, is poised to shape the future of NGTs. However, the recent scenario emphasizes the inclusion or exclusion of NGTs as a key concern for European farmers, reflecting their current challenges in keeping competitive factors in sustainable food production.

Paradoxically, not assisting these producers in accessing these techniques would make them less competitive, and the EU27 even more dependent on imports. A change in the European legislators’ line of thinking is already a pressing need to overcome.