‘As the Government moves ahead with wider legislative reforms of the regulatory system, the Society would like to see active consideration of a system which weighs the consequences of genetic change – and the farming system in which it is deployed – ahead of the technology being used.’
The UK Government has set out plans which it says will enable the use of gene editing technologies to help in the development of more resistant, nutritious and productive crops. The focus will be on plants where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been the result of traditional breeding methods. The move could, for example, lead to sugar beet varieties resistant to viruses that cause yield loss. This would also help reduce the need for chemical pesticides.
Having the left the European Union; the Government says that there are now opportunities to ‘adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies.’ Rules for gene editing will be changed, cutting red tape and making research and development easier. Scientists will continue to be required to notify the Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) of any research trials. The Government added that the technology provides a route for tackling the challenges around food security, climate change and loss of biodiversity.
Professor Linda Partridge FRS, Biological Secretary of the Royal Society, welcomed the development but cautioned that legislative reform should not just focus on the technology. ‘Regulating genetic technologies on the basis of whether the outcome could or could not have been achieved using traditional breeding technologies, perpetuates the false assumption that risk and benefit are determined by the technology used to make a genetic change to crop,’ Professor Partridge said. ‘As the Government moves ahead with wider legislative reforms of the regulatory system, the Society would like to see active consideration of a system which weighs the consequences of genetic change – and the farming system in which it is deployed – ahead of the technology being used.’