UK – The United Kingdom (UK) government is set to greenlight the use of gene editing in agriculture which could see altered produce on the supermarket shelves in five years’ time.
The move will mark the biggest divergence by the UK away from existing European laws since leaving the European Union (EU), which has banned the technique for years amid fears it is unsafe.
Gene editing involves the technique of replacing genes that govern certain traits, such as water dependency, disease resistance and nutrition with better-functioning ones from the same species. Advocates say it has the potential to make crops much more nutritious and resistant to storms or pests and to considerably boost the resilience and yields of livestock.
Brexit minister Lord Frost announced the government’s intention to revoke EU laws governing the use of genetic editing in the UK as part of a statement on “Brexit opportunities” in the coming years. He told peers that Environment Secretary George Eustice would soon set out plans to reform the regulation of gene edited organisms.
“The lifting of the ban will enable more sustainable and efficient farming and help produce healthier and more nutritious food”, he added.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) believes gene-edited produce could be on shop shelves within five years. Outdoor trials have been launched to grow GE wheat that eliminates acrylamide, a carcinogen that occurs when bread is toasted. It is being grown in a controlled environment in Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.
The technology may also allow farmers to reduce their dependence on antibiotics in dairy cattle, which can be passed on to humans. A consultation launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) back in January came to a close in March, but the government’s response is only due at the end of this month.
The decision to lift the ban on gene-editing, which is different to genetically modifying, has been criticized by animal rights groups on the grounds of animal welfare concerns.
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