Gene Technology Bill Will Address Most Pressing Environmental Problems of Our Time

Legislation to unlock new technologies to boost food production and support farmers to grow more high-yielding crops returns to Parliament today – paving the way for the UK to become the best place in the world to invest in agri-food research and innovation

The third reading of the bill is scheduled for today (Monday 31 October) and is expected to be tabled in the House of Lords the following day.

By introducing a more proportionate and science-based regulatory system for precision bred plants and animals, it will unlock opportunities to develop crops that are more resilient to disease and the effects of climate change, such as droughts and floods, and reduce their reliance on pesticides .

Agriculture Secretary Mark Spencer said:

We’ve seen how new genetic technologies can increase yields, make our food more nutritious, and produce crops that are more resistant to disease and extreme weather.

British scientists lead the world in precision breeding and this bill will put the UK at the forefront of agricultural research and innovation – opening doors for more investment and continuing our work to provide farmers with innovation and access to new, smarter Tool technology required for the tool.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act covers precision breeding of plants and animals developed through techniques such as gene editing, where genetic changes may occur naturally or through traditional breeding methods. This is different from genetic modification (GM), which produces organisms with additional genes.

While the potential for increased innovation is great, the government recognizes the need to protect animal welfare in a new regulatory framework. That’s why we’re taking a step-by-step approach, first with plants, then with animals, enabling the use of precision breeding techniques.

Gideon Henderson, chief scientific advisor to Defra, said:

This is an important period for agricultural science. The ability to use gene editing to make precise, targeted changes to an organism’s genetic code in a way that mimics traditional breeding could lead to the development of new crop varieties that are more resistant to pests, healthier to eat, more drought-resistant and more resistant to climate change. heat generated by changes.

For centuries, traditional breeders have used our understanding of genetics to create plant varieties with desirable traits. Gene editing allows precision breeding to make the same type of genetic changes in a more efficient and precise way, significantly reducing the time it takes to create new varieties. Precision breeding is a powerful and important tool that can help us meet the challenges of biodiversity and climate change, while feeding a growing global population.

Professor Nigel Halford, Crop Scientist at Rothamsted Research, said:

It’s very exciting to see this bill make progress in the House of Lords as it will pave the way for this powerful technology to be used for crop improvement and not just research.

We are already behind much of the world in the application of precision breeding techniques and we are eager to see this act become law as soon as possible.

More information:

The bill will:

  • Remove plants and animals produced through precision breeding techniques from regulatory requirements applicable to the environmental release and marketing of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
  • Two notification systems are introduced; one for precision-bred organisms for research purposes, and one for marketing purposes. The information collected will be published in the public register on GOV.UK.
  • Establish a regulatory system commensurate with precision breeding animals to ensure animal welfare is guaranteed. We will not make changes to animal regulations until this system is in place.
  • Establish a new scientific licensing process for food and feed products developed using precision-bred plants and animals.

Opportunities created by the new legislation:

climate adapted wheat

  • The development of climate-resilient wheat will help increase food production from a crop on which 2.5 billion people around the world depend.
  • Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have used gene editing to identify a key gene in wheat that could be used to introduce traits such as heat tolerance while maintaining high yields.
  • The discovery presents an exciting opportunity to identify the genetic variation that could make wheat varieties adaptable to climate change.

non-brown bananas

  • Bananas are a globally important food crop – but there is a significant amount of waste, with more than 50% going uneaten and 10-15% lost to post-harvest bruising of the fruit.
  • Tropic, the UK’s leading agricultural biotech company, has recently developed a non-browning banana using precision breeding techniques.
  • Given the fruit’s highly perishable nature, this innovation has the potential to reduce the amount of bananas wasted, reduce carbon emissions and provide farmers with higher incomes.

disease resistant chicken

  • Avian influenza is a major threat to farmed chickens worldwide, with some strains killing up to 100% of chickens in a flock. In some cases, variants of the virus can infect people and cause serious illness.
  • In a collaboration between Imperial College London, the Pilbright Institute and the Roslin Institute, a study has shown the potential of using gene editing to produce chickens that are resistant to the disease. With the genetic change, the virus can no longer grow inside the cell.
  • The use of gene editing could help control the spread of disease, which is sorely needed to protect chickens and reduce human health risks.

About the Rothamsted study:

Rothamsted Research is the world’s leading not-for-profit research center focused on strategic agricultural science for the benefit of farmers and society around the world.

It is also the oldest agricultural research institution in the world, dating back to 1843.

Its main goals include:

  • Provide expertise, data, better practices and new technologies to improve performance, resiliency and value.
  • Increase the productivity of crop and livestock systems.
  • Address weed, disease and insect resistance to agrochemicals and improve soil health.
  • Enhance natural capital and reduce the carbon and nutrient footprint of agriculture.
  • Add new nutritional, health and bioeconomic value to crops and other products.

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