Defra launches gene-editing consultation

20th January 2021

In one of its first post-Brexit moves, the UK government has launched a consultation on using gene-editing to modify livestock and food crops in England. Environment Secretary George Eustice announced the consultation at the Virtual Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday 7 January. A full copy of Mr Eustice’s speech can be found here.

Gene-editing modifies organisms’ DNA and it has been heavily restricted under EU legislation. Speaking at the conference, Mr Eustice said the approach could be used to develop crops to ensure greater resistant to pests and disease in both crops and animals. He stressed it also creates the ability to breed crops that perform better with fewer inputs, such as pesticides, reducing costs to farmers and reducing impacts on the environment.  Sustainability land management is key to the government’s aim of reducing emissions and the government believe gene-editing could bring huge benefits to the UK farming sector, helping to achieve its net-zero ambition.

Mr Eustice stressed the UK no longer had to “slavishly adopt” European law on gene-editing, which was “notoriously restrictive and politicised” resulting in many not trusting the integrity of the process and its benefits.  But some are opposed to the technology. Some opponents say it creates entirely new organisms, and uphold that strict regulation is imperative. In addition, there are potential border consequences since many markets may not accept unlabelled genetically modified food. Although, it would see England align itself closer with Japan, Australia and Argentina, who have all adopted a similar approach to genetically modified crops.   The consultation will run for 10 weeks, closing on 17 March 2021.

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