Gene editing gets green light
The Queen's Speech announced plans to allow the gene editing of animals and crops in a bid to improve Britain’s agricultural productivity.
Precision breeding, also know as gene editing, describes a range of techniques which can be used to make precise changes to an organism’s own DNA. It does not introduce DNA from other species, but offers a way of making safe and targeted beneficial changes which could have occurred more slowly naturally, or through conventional breeding techniques.
The FDF supports the use of technological solutions to help the competitiveness and sustainability of the food and drink supply chain. Precision breeding presents clear opportunities to underpin and encourage innovation but, alongside any decisions on appropriate regulation, it will be important for the UK Government to consider how to enable a framework that maintains our members’ ability to trade on a global platform.
Gene editing can produce plants which are identical to those which could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding techniques.
Genetic modification involves adding new DNA into the genome of an organism, producing changes which would not have occurred through conventional breeding techniques.
The Food Standards Agency has produced a helpful short video explaining ‘Genome Editing: What you need to know’.
The legislation which currently regulates precision breeding technologies, such as gene editing, was developed with genetic modification in mind and has not kept pace with significant technological advances in this area.
It therefore does not reflect the differences in the range of techniques now available. This has prompted a review of the legislation in England, as well as in the European Union (EU), which developed the original legislation.
Gene editing has the potential to bring significant benefits to the agri-food system by accelerating agricultural and plant resilience. It could make a positive contribution to a more sustainable food system, helping to:
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has produced a video on ‘How gene editing can benefit us’ which outlines some of the existing research in this area and the potential future benefits which gene editing could bring.
In July 2022, Science for Sustainable Agriculture published the findings of recent consumer research to establish a representative snapshot of public and consumer attitudes towards scientific intervention in agriculture and food production, and particularly to establish how much people understand about where their food comes from, and how much scientific innovation goes into its development and production (press release).
The results, detailed in full in the report entitled ‘How natural is our food, and what does ‘natural mean anyway?’ reveals a lack of knowledge – even among self-identified ‘foodies’ - as to the true provenance of many of our familiar food crops, and the transformational changes they have undergone in order to be grown in the UK. The research highlights the need for more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, and raises serious questions about the validity of current public discussions around issues such as precision breeding, when most consumers appear unaware of the level of scientific intervention which has already gone into the development of our everyday foods.
“There is a clear understanding among consumers of the many challenges facing our food supply, and the need for urgent action to tackle those challenges. As the world gets hotter, and people get hungrier, more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, delivered by trusted sources, using the right language and terminology, will be absolutely critical.”
[Fellow SSA advisory group member, science communicator Dr Julian Little]
With the introduction of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, the Queen’s Speech confirmed the Government will remove the barriers inherited from the EU to enable the development and marketing of precision bred plants and animals, which will drive economic growth and position the UK as the leading country in which to invest in agri-food research and innovation. The Bill will extend to England and Wales but apply to England only.
The Queen’s Speech confirmed that the main elements of the Bill will be: