The government has announced changes to regulations to ease the research and development of “gene-edited” food crops that could help make food more nutritious or reduce the need for harmful chemical pesticides.
The change in regulations means that gene editing of plants could also help breed crops that are resistant to pests and diseases and potentially increase yields for farmers.
Gene editing changes traits within a plant or animal species much more rapidly and accurately than traditional selective breeding that has been used for centuries to produce strong, healthy crops and livestock.
This could see the development of crops like sugar beet that are resistant to the virus affecting yields without the use of pesticides.
This comes despite several concerns raised during the government consultation. Of the individual responses, 87 percent said that the risk of gene editing was higher than in conventional breeding and should be regulated as genetically modified (GM) organisms.
However, responses from educational institutions and public bodies suggest that there was no major risk.
The rule change would allow field trials of gene-edited crops to go through an unlicensing process, which takes a few months and costs researchers £5,000 to £10,000, although scientists still need to report their work to the Department of the Environment (DEFRA). have to be informed. .
The move is the first phase of an approach that could see gene edited foods sold on UK supermarket shelves in the future.
Officials and scientists distinguish between gene editing, which involves the manipulation of genes within a species or genus, and GM, in which DNA from one species is introduced into another species.
But following a decision by the European Union in 2018, it is regulated just as tightly as GM organisms, a position that Environment Secretary George Eustice said could now leave Britain to the bloc.
Mr Eustis said: “Gene editing has the potential to harness the genetic resources provided by nature.
“It is a tool that can help us tackle some of the biggest challenges, such as food security, climate change and loss of biodiversity.
“Outside the EU, we have been able to foster innovation to help develop plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change.
“We will work closely with farming and environmental groups to ensure that the right regulations are in place.”
Following the rule change on field trials, the next phase is planned, the primary legislation to change regulatory definitions of a genetically modified organism, to exclude gene edited crops or livestock that are – more slowly – by conventional breeding methods. could be built gradually.
This would allow the commercial marketing of gene edited products without the need for GM regulation, although they would still be subject to other regulations regarding the sale of foods.
The government also plans a comprehensive review of GM regulation in the longer term.
It said marketing of food items would be permitted only if it is decided that they do not present a risk to health, do not mislead consumers and do not have lower nutritional value than non-genetically modified counterparts. keep.
It can take years for gene-edited products to arrive on supermarket shelves, and decisions have to be made about how they will be labeled.
Prof Robin May, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Food Standards Agency, said: “There are significant benefits to changing the way we regulate genetic technologies, to ensure that the system is as up-to-date as possible and to support new technologies and scientific discoveries. Takes care of properly.
“We support giving consumers choice and recognize the potential benefits gene edited plants and animals can bring to the food system.”
Any gene edited products traded with the EU would have to undergo full GM approval – although the bloc is also looking at its own approach to gene editing – but could be sold in countries where gene editing is allowed.
PA. Additional reporting by
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /