Gene editing consultation – a positive step for agri-tech

The future of agri-tech innovation has been given a considerable boost following the Government’s announcement on gene editing in September.

In response to a consultation on the subject, Environment Secretary George Eustice explained how the Government wanted to enable the use of gene editing technologies to help the UK tackle food production challenges.

Previously, European Union regulations required that gene-edited crops were classified the same as genetically modified crops, despite the two being different. This meant lengthy field trials and food safety testing, as well as a final EU vote for approval.

Now, the rules are to be separated, encouraging the development of gene-edited varieties that could offer not only greater environmental resilience, but health and biodiversity credentials too.

CHAP Innovation Director Dr Ruth Bastow, said: “Gene editing is a more precise way of introducing targeted genetic changes, without using DNA from other species. In doing so, it speeds up the creation of new varieties, similar to those produced by natural breeding processes.

“Freeing up the development of gene-edited crops is a positive step forward for agri-tech. Hopefully this will encourage further innovation within plant breeding, helping us to overcome huge food production challenges such as climate change, health and wellbeing, population growth and a reduction in biodiversity.”

Following the announcement, the regulatory definitions of a genetically modified organism (GMO) will be reviewed to exclude those produced through gene editing and other technologies aligned with traditional breeding. To ensure high food safety standards, scientists will still need to notify Defra of any research trials related to this area.

Existing regulations will continue to remain for gene editing that introduces DNA from another species into an organism.

Dr Bastow added: “By making the development of new varieties more viable through streamlining regulatory protocol, this reduces the cost of trials and fast-tracks the realisation of scientific break-throughs to the end consumer.

“Not only does this help UK agriculture to be more sustainable and resilient, but it also fosters greater collaboration within research.

“It’s also encouraging to hear that although regulation is being adjusted, high standards of environmental and food safety will be maintained, and associated control measures put in place. This is to protect the food chain and ensure transparency within the marketplace.”

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