The NFU has responded to the government’s announcement on future regulation of precision breeding techniques such as gene editing. It comes following a three-month consultation and the government has said it will cut red tape to make research and development easier following the UK’s break from the European Union.
Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that nature has provided. It is a tool that could help us in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss.
“Outside the EU, we are able to foster innovation to help grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change. We will be working closely with farming and environmental groups to ensure that the right rules are in place.”
Gene editing differs from Genetic Modification (GM) as it does not introduce DNA from other species. Instead, it creates new varieties similar to those that could be produced more slowly by natural breeding processes. Currently, these are regulated in the same way as GM organisms.
NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “It is very encouraging to see the government’s view that new precision breeding techniques, such as gene editing, have the potential to offer huge benefits to UK farming, the environment and the public, and will be vital in helping us achieve our climate change net-zero ambition.
“The world’s climate emergency points to the urgency of applying this technology to farming and this announcement is an important first step towards a properly functioning legislative system.
“These new tools could help in a number of ways, from addressing pest and disease pressures on crops and farm animals and improving animal health and welfare, to increasing farmers’ resilience in the event of extreme weather events such as flooding and drought and benefiting the environment through more efficient use of resources. This would mean lower emissions and less waste, allowing British farmers to farm more sustainably and profitably.
“Crucially, precision breeding technologies will also help in the development of foods with direct benefits to the public; better quality, increased nutritional value and products with a longer shelf life.
“We know gene editing is not a silver bullet. But if we are to make this a success, any new government regulation must be robust, fit for purpose and based on sound science. This will in turn provide public confidence, enable diverse and accessible innovation, and allow investment in products for the UK market.
“The NFU will be examining today’s announcement in detail and will work with Defra to ensure the right legislative system is in place, not only to drive research but also to provide a route to market for improved varieties and breeds. We also urge the government to provide the necessary researchers and companies with a clear timetable. The government will also need to work closely with the devolved administrations to deliver something which works for the whole of the UK.
“British farming is innovative and ambitious and by seeking to use more sophisticated and targeted breeding tools for our crops and livestock, we can continue to produce sustainable, climate-friendly food well into the future.”