British beet sugar industry welcomes government's consultation on gene editing

Michael Sly

British Sugar, NFU Sugar and the British Beet Research Organisation welcome the launch of the government’s consultation on the future of precision breeding and genetic innovation, which opened today. This presents a huge opportunity for British-grown sugar beet, currently in crisis as a result of Virus Yellows disease. The environmental benefits of gene editing are clear.

The consultation considers whether the UK should change the rules on how gene editing is regulated, to allow it to be used to produce beneficial crops, while maintaining strong health and safety rules. This approach would bring us into line with many other countries around the world who already use the techniques.

Gene editing could be a versatile plant breeding method for use across many sectors, and in sugar beet it could help ensure that the crop is more resistant to diseases such as Virus Yellows while reducing the use of plant protection products. Improving farm productivity in this way should mean that British farming can continue to compete successfully on the world stage into the future, as well as contributing to future food security needs and national and global sustainability targets.

British Sugar’s Agriculture Director Peter Watson commented: “We want the British beet sugar industry to be at the forefront of British agri-tech and legislating to allow the use of these modern breeding techniques is one route to helps us get there. Alongside a host of leading scientific and agricultural institutions, we look forward to submitting our views to the government during the consultation process.”

NFU Sugar Board chair Michael Sly commented: “The 2020/21 campaign has been extremely challenging for many growers who are facing devastating yield losses from Virus Yellows disease. Gene editing provides the promise of a long-term solution to some of the toughest problems our industry faces. We are pleased to be given the opportunity to submit our views through the consultation.”

Head of the BBRO Dr Vicky Foster commented: “We welcome the UK consultation on gene editing, it is so important that our scientists have access to the best the tools to allow the UK to remain at the cutting edge of research and technology. If we are to win the battle against ever-evolving pests and diseases on our key crops, and the move towards more sustainable agriculture, we must be able to find new solutions in the most timely and effective way.”

Notes:

  • The consultation will run for 10 weeks until 17 March and can be found here.
  • Gene editing refers to techniques that can be used to change a selected, very specific sequence within the genome of a crop. It would allow existing natural gene changes seen in crops including sugar beet to be hastened through modern techniques. It does not introduce any new genes from other species.

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