New legislation will be put in place to cut unnecessary red tape for gene editing, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said today (Thursday, January 20).

The rule changes, made possible by the UK's departure from the EU, will mean that scientists across England will be able to undertake plant-based research and development, using genetic technologies such as gene editing, more easily.

The rules will apply to plants where gene editing is used to create new varieties similar to those which could have been produced more slowly through traditional breeding processes and will unlock research opportunities to grow crops which are more nutritious, and which require less pesticide use.

Harnessing the genetic resources that nature has provided through genetic technologies will create new opportunities for farmers to grow more resilient crops, Defra said.

"New genetic technologies could help us tackle some of the biggest challenges of our age – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss," said Jo Churchill, Minister for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaptation.

"Now we have the freedom and opportunity to foster innovation, to improve the environment and help us grow plants that are stronger and more resilient to climate change. I am grateful to the farming and environmental groups that have helped us shape our approach, and I look forward to seeing what we can achieve."

"With the new rules now formally in place, scientists will be able to assess new crops in real-world conditions more easily," added chief scientific adviser, Prof. Gideon Henderson.

This will increase our ability to harness the potential of gene editing to efficiently help grow plants that are more nutritious, beneficial to the environment, more resilient to climate change, and resistant to disease and pests."

The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) chief executive Samantha Brooke has welcomed today’s announcement.

“New legislation laid before Parliament will simplify requirements for our members to undertake plant-based research and development, using genetic technologies such as gene editing, more easily," she said.

This has opened up significant opportunities to keep pace with demands for increased agricultural productivity, resource-use efficiency, more durable pest and disease resistance, improved nutrition and resilience to climate change.

“We look forward to an early announcement from Defra on plans to introduce the new primary legislation needed to deliver on the government’s commitment, freeing up the genetic innovation to develop more resilient, nutritious and higher-yielding crops with a reduced footprint on the environment."