Precision Breeding Bill gains Royal Assent after years of NFU campaigning

23 March 2023

Close up image of wheat

Many years of NFU campaigning has resulted in a significant step forward for the potential role of new breeding technologies, such as gene editing, in boosting sustainability on English farms, improving products for consumers and increasing our food security.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill has today gained Royal Assent after its passage through Parliament and following a three-month public consultation in 2021.

Biotechnology such as gene editing has the potential to:

  • Combat pest and disease pressures on crops and farm animals.
  • Improve animal health and welfare.
  • Increase crops’ resilience to extreme weather events such as flooding and drought.
  • Help farmers tackle climate change and aid biodiversity by enabling more efficient use of resources, resulting in lower emissions, less waste, and more sustainable and profitable farming.
  • Help in the development of foods with direct benefits to the public, such as increased nutritional value, maximised flavour and longer shelf life.

In order to successfully deliver these benefits for farmers, shoppers and the environment, the NFU is urging the government to ensure that new regulations are enabling and proportionate to the low levels of risk.

NFU Vice President David Exwood said: "For more than two decades, we’ve advocated for the development of biotechnology within agriculture and horticulture, and for science to dictate the policy. I am delighted that, after working closely with Defra, the Food Standards Agency, parliamentarians, and industry partners to ensure the Bill’s smooth progress, it has passed its final hurdle.

“Biotechnology is by no means a silver bullet, but having access to more targeted precision breeding tools for our crops and livestock could really help bolster climate-friendly food production and support biodiversity here in Britain.

“It’s important to note that the passage of the Bill is only the first step. As it is implemented through further legislation, regulations must be fit for purpose if it is to provide a meaningful boost to our food resilience and food security."

More information

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill means precision breeding is regulated differently to genetic modification (GM).

Gene editing is a group of technologies that make changes within the organism's own DNA by moving, adding or deleting precise pieces of genetic material. Such changes also happen through conventional breeding techniques or in nature. In contrast, GM technologies involve inserting new DNA from a different species into an organism’s genome, giving the resulting plant or animal desired characteristics.

Secondary legislation must be risk-based and also avoid duplicating existing regulations on farming and breeding sectors.