Gene-edited fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops are likely to hit the market in increasing numbers over the next five years to meet consumer demand for improved traits, according to a report by Rabobank.

Commercialization will remain restricted in places such as the European Union, Mexico and New Zealand where gene-edited plants are treated like GMOs.

A larger number of countries, including the United States, Canada and Argentina, generally treat gene-edited plants as conventional crops but evaluate the crops based on the particular product. China and Brazil evaluate such biotech crops based on the process used to produce them.

“Treating gene-edited products as conventional products will surely have long-term impacts on the whole supply chain,” in part because gene editing shortens the breeding cycles for some crops, saving research and development costs, said Chia-Kai Kang, an analyst for farm inputs at Rabobank.

One of the reasons that gene editing is poised to accelerate in specialty crops, according to the report, is because they are often grown in controlled environments, either under protective covers or in tunnels, greenhouses or indoor facilities.

“Row crops are grown in the open field where they interact with more factors such as weather, soil and other species. These factors create more risk and uncertainty about how a gene-edited crop will perform,” the report says.

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There are some gene-edited specialty crops already headed to market, including a tomato with increased vitamin D levels in the United Kingdom and a mushroom that won’t turn brown in the United States, the report notes. 

The report says data will be needed on consumer preferences for traits like color and shelf life and that traits that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address other environmental concerns also could be marketable.

“In the short term we can expect output traits in specialty crops to bloom in the next five years. This could vastly impact the supply chain and production systems, and it could also influence consumers’ views of gene-edited products,” the report concludes.

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