New plans to unlock the power of gene editing to help farmers grow “more resistant, more nutritious, and more productive crops” have been published as part of the government response to the gene editing consultation, announced today (September 29) by Environment Secretary George Eustice.

The response sets out how we plan to pave the way to enable use of gene editing technologies, which can help better protect the environment.

Gene editing is a tool that makes plant breeding more precise and efficient so that we can breed crops that are more nutritious, resistant to pests and disease, more productive and more beneficial to the environment, helping to benefit farmers and reduce impacts on the environment.

Research could also lead to sugar beet varieties resistant to viruses that can cause serious yield losses and costs to farmers unless pesticides are used.

Creating new varieties

Gene editing is different from genetic modification, as it does not result in the introduction of DNA from other species, and creates new varieties similar to those that could be produced more slowly by natural breeding processes, but currently they are regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms.

The focus will be on plants produced by genetic technologies, where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that nature has provided.

“It is a tool that could help us in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges that we face – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Outside the EU, we are able to foster innovation to help grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change.

“We will be working closely with farming and environmental groups to ensure that the right rules are in place.”