Future regulation of gene editing an important ‘first step’ says NFU

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) vice president Tom Bradshaw has called yesterday’s government announcement regarding the future regulation of gene editing an important ‘first step towards a properly functioning legislative system’.

“The world’s climate emergency points to the urgency of applying this technology to farming and this announcement is an important first step towards a properly functioning legislative system,” he said.

“It is very encouraging to see the government’s view that new precision breeding techniques, such as gene editing, have the potential to offer huge benefits to UK farming, the environment and the public, and will be vital in helping us achieve our climate change net zero ambition.”

The government announcement by environment secretary George Eustice yesterday, Tuesday, September 29, set out how we plan to pave the way to enable use of gene editing technologies, which can help better protect the environment.

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.

NFU response

Responding to the announcement, NFU’s Tom Bradshaw continued:

“These new tools could help in a number of ways, from addressing pest and disease pressures on crops and farm animals and improving animal health and welfare, to increasing farmers’ resilience in the event of extreme weather events such as flooding and drought and benefiting the environment through more efficient use of resources.

This would mean lower emissions and less waste, allowing British farmers to farm more sustainably and profitably.

“Crucially, precision breeding technologies will also help in the development of foods with direct benefits to the public; better quality, increased nutritional value and products with a longer shelf life,” he added.

“We know gene editing is not a silver bullet. But if we are to make this a success, any new government regulation must be robust, fit for purpose and based on sound science. This will in turn provide public confidence, enable diverse and accessible innovation, and allow investment in products for the UK market.

The NFU will be examining today’s announcement in detail and will work with Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to ensure the right legislative system is in place, not only to drive research but also to provide a route to market for improved varieties and breeds.

“We also urge government to provide the necessary researchers and companies with a clear timetable. The government will also need to work closely with the devolved administrations to deliver something which works for the whole of the UK.

“British farming is innovative and ambitious and by seeking to use more sophisticated and targeted breeding tools for our crops and livestock, we can continue to produce sustainable, climate-friendly food well into the future,” he concluded.