Page updated 15 January 2021
Defra has launched a consultation on how new genetic technologies in agriculture should be regulated in the future.
The consultation follows the government response to a debate on 28 July 2020 in the House of Lords on an amendment to the Agriculture Bill aiming to improve the regulation of precision breeding.
The underlying principle of this consultation is that genetic modification and some new breeding techniques such as gene-editing are not the same scientifically and should therefore not be regulated in the same way. This has long been the government’s position and Defra is seeking to take a “more scientifically credible approach to regulation to help us meet some of the biggest challenges we face.”
The NFU also sees benefits in the use of biotechnology in agriculture, believing it should be effectively regulated and that legislation must be proportionate, fit for purpose and based on robust science. NFU members should have the choice to access the best tools available to farm sustainably, productively and profitably for their own markets.
Responding to the announcement that government is to launch a consultation on the future regulation of gene editing, NFU Vice President Tom Bradshaw said: “New precision breeding techniques such as gene editing have the potential to offer huge benefits to UK farming and the environment and are absolutely critical in helping us achieve our climate change net zero ambition.
“In our drive to achieve net zero by 2040, these new tools could help us address pest and disease pressures on our crops and livestock, increasing our resilience in the event of extreme weather events, as well as reducing our impact through a more efficient use of resources, resulting in lower emissions and less waste.
“New biotechnologies are also enabling the development of foods with much more direct benefit to the public, such as healthier oils, higher vitamin content and products with a longer shelf life.
“Certainty, transparency and trust in the regulation of biotechnologies, such as gene editing, are essential for farmers and industry, society and scientists, so that safe and effective precision breeding can be delivered as part of a thriving, knowledge-based, food and farming sector and we look forward to responding to this government consultation in detail.
“We know that on its own gene editing will not be a silver bullet, but it could be a very important tool to help us meet the challenges for the future.”
There are two parts to the consultation: The first asks specifically how techniques leading to organisms that could be produced through traditional breeding should be regulated, with a view to changing the statutory definition of GMO in England; The second asks how government should approach regulating genetic technologies and resulting organisms in the longer term in order to inform future policy development and stakeholder engagement.
The consultation closes on 17 March 2021. All the details of the Defra consultation can be found at The regulation of genetic technologies – Defra – Citizen Space, with a PDF of the consultation document at the bottom of that page.
Watch this space for more information on how members can help inform the NFU’s response.
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