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Exciting step forward for gene editing

30th May 2022 / By Rebecca Veale

Legislation to cut red tape and support the development of innovative tech to grow more resistant, more nutritious, and more productive crops was introduced into the House of Commons on May 25.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will remove unnecessary barriers to research into new gene editing technology.

The Bill will enable the development and marketing of precision bred plants and animals, which will attract investment into agri-food research and innovation in the UK. To date the policy around genetic technologies, such as gene editing, has been led by legal interpretation and not the science.

Precision breeding technologies, like gene editing, have a range of benefits. They will give UK scientists the power to help farmers and producers develop plant varieties and animals with beneficial traits that could also occur through traditional breeding and natural processes, but in a more efficient and precise way.

Precision breeding has the potential to create plant varieties and animals that have improved resistance to diseases; helping to reduce our reliance on pesticides and antibiotics, reduce impacts on the environment and improve the welfare of animals. 

NPA Senior Policy Adviser, Rebecca Veale, said: “This is very exciting policy development and something the NPA has been calling for, research has been undertaken to look at disease resistance in animals, including PRRS in pigs, but the application of this work was not possible.

"There is still a long way to go before we can utilise this on farm given plants will be first, but we’re excited about the opportunities gene editing will offer our industry.”

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: "Outside the EU we are free to follow the science.  These precision technologies allow us to speed up the breeding of plants that have natural resistance to diseases and better use of soil nutrients so we can have higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilisers. The UK has some incredible academic centres of excellence and they are poised to lead the way."

The Government is taking a step-by-step approach by creating legislation for plants first. No changes will be made to the regulation of animals under the GMO regime until a regulatory system is developed to safeguard animal welfare.