Gene editing describes a range of techniques which can be used to make precise changes to an organism’s own DNA. It does not introduce DNA from other species, but offers a way of making targeted beneficial changes which could have occurred more slowly naturally, or through conventional breeding techniques.

The FDF supports the use of technological solutions to help the competitiveness and sustainability of the food and drink supply chain. Gene editing presents clear opportunities to underpin and encourage innovation but, alongside any decisions on appropriate regulation, it will be important for the UK Government to consider how to enable a framework that maintains our members’ ability to trade on a global platform.

The difference between gene editing and genetic modification

Gene editing can produce plants which are identical to those which could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding techniques.

Genetic modification involves adding new DNA into the genome of an organism, producing changes which would not have occurred through conventional breeding techniques.

The Food Standards Agency has produced a helpful short video explaining ‘Genome Editing: What you need to know’.

The legislation which currently regulates precision breeding technologies, such as gene editing, was developed with genetic modification in mind and has not kept pace with significant technological advances in this area. 

It therefore does not reflect the differences in the range of techniques now available.  This has prompted a review of the legislation in England, as well as in the European Union (EU), which developed the original legislation.

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The benefits of gene editing

Gene editing has the potential to bring significant benefits to the agri-food system by accelerating agricultural and plant resilience. It could make a positive contribution to a more sustainable food system, helping to:

  • ensure future food security, by improving crop yields and preventing crop failures.
  • reduce crop diseases, by breeding in resistance to certain pathogens or insect pests, also helping to reduce the need for pesticides or insecticides.
  • reduce food waste, by reducing spoiling and browning of foods, increasing their shelf life.
  • improve the nutritional profile of foods, for example, by increasing antioxidants, phenols and tannins in fruit and vegetables.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has produced a video on ‘How gene editing can benefit us’ which outlines some of the existing research in this area and the potential future benefits which gene editing could bring.

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News

Gene editing gets green light

The Queen's Speech announced plans to allow the gene editing of animals and crops in a bid to improve Britain’s agricultural productivity.

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Updates

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill

Update

With the introduction of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, the Queen’s Speech confirmed the Government will remove the barriers inherited from the EU to enable the development and marketing of precision bred plants and animals, which will drive economic growth and position the UK as the leading country in which to invest in agri-food research and innovation. The Bill will extend to England and Wales but apply to England only.
 
The Queen’s Speech confirmed that the main elements of the Bill will be:

  • Creating a new, simpler regulatory regime for precision bred plants and animals that have genetic changes that could have arisen through traditional breeding or natural processes. No changes will be made to the regulation of animals until animal welfare is safeguarded.
  • Introducing two notification systems for research and marketing purposes where breeders and researchers will need to notify Defra of precision bred organisms. The information collected on precision bred organisms will be published on a public register.
  • Establishing a new science-based authorisation process for food and feed products developed using precision bred organisms.