GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE CONSULTATION ON THE REGULATION OF GENETIC TECHNOLOGIES SUCH AS GENE EDITING.
Today in our government response, we have set out how we will clear a path for scientists in England to develop gene editing technologies that will help our farmers grow more resilient, nutritious, and productive plants and crops. What is gene editing? The way that plants and animals grow is controlled by their genes. For centuries, farmers and growers have carefully chosen to breed animals or plants that are stronger or healthier, so the next generation has these beneficial traits. But this is a slow process. Gene editing technologies include a range of breakthrough approaches, which enable genes to be edited much more precisely to make the same type of changes that occur more slowly in the traditional breeding process. Gene editing should not be confused with genetic modification (known as GM).
Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species and do not pose an increased safety risk compared to current traditional breeding techniques, which would take far longer to introduce the same beneficial changes. Many countries such as Argentina have already considered whether to regulate gene edited organisms as GMOs and in most cases, they have taken a different approach to the EU, deciding that these organisms should not be regulated as GMOs. The benefits of gene editing These technologies have great potential to help our scientists harness the richness of natural variation in plants so that farmers can grow crops that are more nutritious, more resilient to extreme weather and stresses, and less reliant on agrochemicals like pesticides.
Together with other emerging areas of agri-innovation, this will help improve sustainability in agriculture, support our ambitions in the 25 Year Environment Plan and help climate mitigation and adaptation.
Some of the benefits of gene editing include:
• Healthier plants, livestock and crops: one of the key benefits of gene editing is the ability to develop greater resistance to pests and diseases. Increased resistance could help to reduce the reliance on certain pesticides and other chemical use, improve animal welfare and help reduce costs to farmers. For example, gene editing research has produced disease resistant varieties of wheat and rapeseed and shown potential to produce pigs resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome.
• Healthier food: gene edited crops have the potential to produce fruit and vegetables that are more nutritious, have reduced toxicity or reduced allergens. This could have a positive impact on public health. For example, recent research is investigating how gene editing can reduce the formation of a carcinogen called acrylamide. This could decrease carcinogens from cooked wheat-based food.
• Unlocking our world leading science and research: unlocking innovation in gene editing and genetic technologies will be key to meeting commitments set out by the Prime Minister in the UK Innovation Strategy. We want to make the UK the best place in the world to conduct research into gene editing and lead the way in this exciting technology.
Our approach as we move forward The UK is a world leader in genetics and genomics, and we want to foster an environment that encourages innovation in farming at a time when we must address today’s most pressing challenges. We remain committed to not compromising the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. The public consultation enabled Government to capture the views of a wide range of individuals and organisations. We carefully considered all these views and took on board the latest scientific advice.
That is why we will take a step-by-step approach, and we will continue to engage with stakeholders and the public throughout the process. Our first step will focus on unlocking research in plants to enable scientists to develop our knowledge base and drive innovation in farming. We intend to use existing powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to make research and field trials in England easier for plants produced by genetic technologies where the resulting genetic changes could have been developed using traditional breeding methods. Our next step will be to review the regulatory definitions of a GMO to exclude certain organisms produced by gene editing if they could have been developed by traditional breeding. We will also consider the appropriate measures needed to enable gene edited products to be brought to market. Gene edited products would still be subject to the UK’s high standards that protect the health and safety of people and the environment. We will follow this work with a review of GMO legislation more broadly.
The use of genetic technologies is an emotive and often misunderstood area. We should be led by the science to encourage responsible innovation that has real benefits for farmers, consumers and the environment. I hope that following the government response, we can all participate in a public discussion that will consider the potential benefits and address current misconceptions.