The National Farmers' Union (NFU) believes new precision breeding techniques, such as gene editing, could protect crops and animals from pests and disease, help deliver net zero and allow farmers to produce more home-grown food.

Responding to the government’s consultation on future regulation, the NFU said farmers should have the choice to access the best tools available to enable a resilient and innovative British farming industry.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said:

The underlying principle of this consultation is that some new breeding techniques, such as gene editing, are not the same scientifically as genetic modification [GM] and should, therefore, not be regulated in the same way; an approach already used in several countries around the world and one the NFU supports.

"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."

'Regulation must be fit for purpose'

Bradshaw continued:

"We recognise that gene editing technology on its own will not be a silver bullet and if the government is 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.

"It’s vital that the UK is still able to trade with the EU and that the internal UK market remains functional, should England take a different approach to regulating new precision breeding techniques.

"The government must analyse the implications and discuss the issues in detail with its counterparts in other countries, as well as with all parts of the UK supply chain as a matter of urgency.

Above all, it must take responsibility for the policy and communication needed to inform the public to give them confidence in the proposed regulation.

"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," he concluded.