UK should be given access to gene editing tools, NFU says

The government's consultation looking at the future regulation of gene editing in the UK closed today
The government's consultation looking at the future regulation of gene editing in the UK closed today

Farmers should be given the choice to access new precision breeding techniques now the UK is out of the EU, the NFU has said.

The union, in its response to the government’s consultation on future regulation, said techniques such as gene editing could protect crops and animals from pests and disease.

It could also help farmers deliver the UK's net zero ambitions and allow the industry to produce more home-grown food.

The government consultation focuses on stopping certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification (GM), as long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding.

Gene editing is different to GM where DNA from one species is introduced to a different one, as gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species.

Instead, they only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods.

But at the moment, due to a legal ruling from the European Court of Justice in 2018, gene editing is regulated in the same way as genetic modification.

Responding to Defra's consultation, the NFU said British farmers should have 'the choice to access the best tools available'.

The union's vice president Tom Bradshaw said: “Gene editing offers huge opportunities for farmers and this consultation has provided an opportunity for lively debate among our membership.

"We believe gene editing could help address pest and disease pressures in our crops and livestock, increase resilience in the event of extreme weather, as well as reducing our impact on the environment through a more efficient use of resources.

"This would support our ambitions to become net zero by 2040, allowing farmers to farm sustainably and profitably."

However, the NFU said it recognised that gene editing technology on its own would not be a silver bullet and if the government was to make a success of gene-editing, the regulation must be 'fit for purpose and robust'.

"It needs to be based on robust science, enable diverse and accessible innovation, empower public sector research organisations to drive development and allow investment in products for the UK market," Mr Bradshaw said.

“If we are to deliver the ambitions we have for British farming, the use of new and exciting tools that science offers will ensure farmers can continue to produce sustainable, climate-friendly food well into the future."