Groundbreaking gene editing (GE) techniques which would speed up crop and livestock breeding could soon be on the cards for farmers in England.
A consultation on the technology, which is banned in the EU, will be announced at today’s Oxford Farming Conference by Environment Secretary George Eustice.
The food and farming sectors, environmental groups, the public and academics will be consulted and, depending on the outcome, a decision to approve the use of GE in agriculture would require primary legislation and scrutiny and approval by parliament.
Mr Eustice is expected to say: “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age.
“This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.
“Its potential was blocked by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018, which is flawed and stifling to scientific progress. Now that we have left the EU, we are free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence. That begins with this consultation.”
Gene editing differs from genetic modification (GM) as it doesn’t involve introducing DNA from one species to a different one and, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the consultation will focus on stopping certain GE organisms from being regulated in the same way as GM, as long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding.
The consultation will also gather evidence on updating the Westminster government’s approach to GM by “gathering information on what controls are needed and how best to deliver them”.
England’s Food Standards Agency’s chief scientific advisor, Professor Robin May, welcomed the consultation and said GE foods would only be permitted to be marketed if they are judged to not present a risk to health, not to mislead consumers, and not have lower nutritional value than existing equivalent foods.
The consultation, which applies to England only, will run for 10 weeks until March 17.