GM crops are not grown widely in Europe and the regulation of their growth varies across the EU. Spain produces more GM crops than any other EU state and whilst there is some limited production in a number of other countries, it is limited to a few specific crops. France and Germany are typically considered to be the major opponents of GM food, although the UK has faced significant public opposition to growth of GM crops.
It is therefore pleasing to see the recent approval of a new field trial for a new crop of high yield GM wheat, which has shown promising results in greenhouse tests. Whilst the open air testing of any GMO should be approached with caution, it is clear that this technology has great potential and it is important to have the opportunity to assess the possible benefits (and any harm) rigorously.
It is notable that it is possible to obtain patent protection for GM plants in Europe, even though they are not widely grown. Whilst other IP rights are available for the protection of new plant varieties, these rights are not appropriate for many innovations in crop science and the recent Notice of the European Commission suggesting that plants produced from essentially biological processes are not eligible for patent protection (see my colleague Dan’s post) means that innovators in the field of crop science may need to focus on GM crops to have certainty that their hard work can be protected.
Whatever the outcome of the new trial, it is clear that GM crops still represent an important area of research and it is good to see the UK Government taking steps to ensure that innovations in this field can be properly assessed.