The NFU has responded to the Government’s consultation into future regulation surrounding gene editing, welcoming possible changes to the regulations which it says could protect crops and animals from pests and disease, help deliver net zero, and allow farmers to produce more home-grown food.
The government consultation is focused on stopping certain gene editing organisms from being regulated in the same way as genetic modification, as long as they could have been produced naturally or through traditional breeding.
Gene editing is different to genetic modification, where DNA from one species is introduced to a different one. Gene edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods.
Tom Bradshaw, NFU vice president, pointed out the difference between the two practices, and said they should therefore not be regulated in the same way.
“Gene editing offers huge opportunities for farmers and this consultation has provided an opportunity for lively debate among our membership,” he said. “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.
Mr Bradshaw also said that they are aware that gene editing technology on its own will not be a “silver bullet” and in order for 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,” he explained.
He added 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, and urged the Government to 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.”