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UK plans to unlock gene editing technologies of crops

Thursday, September 30, 2021

New plans to unlock the power of gene editing to help farmers grow more resistant, nutritious and productive crops have been published by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs as part of the government response to a previous gene-editing consultation. The response sets out how the government plans to pave the way to enable the use of gene editing technologies, which can help better protect the environment.

Gene editing is different from genetic modification, because it does not result in the introduction of DNA from other species and creates new varieties similar to those that could be produced more slowly by natural breeding processes, but currently, they are regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms.

Leaving the EU allows the UK to set its own rules, opening up opportunities to adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies. As a first step, the government will change the rules relating to gene editing to cut red tape and make research and development easier. The focus will be on plants produced by genetic technologies, where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods.

“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,” said Environment secretary, George Eustice. “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.”

The next step will be to review the regulatory definitions of a genetically modified organism, to exclude organisms produced by gene editing and other genetic technologies if they could have been developed by traditional breeding. GMO regulations would continue to apply where gene editing introduces DNA from other species into an organism.

The government will consider the appropriate measures needed to enable gene-edited products to be brought to market safely and responsibly. In the longer term, this will be followed by a review of England’s approach to GMO regulation more broadly.

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