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Crop Biotech Update

Defra Seeks Support for Gene Editing; Launches Consultation

January 13, 2021
George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, England. Photo Source: Oxford Farming Conference

The United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is planning to conduct a consultation on gene editing which could unlock substantial benefits to nature, the environment and help farmers with crops resistant to pests, diseases, or extreme weather and to produce healthier, more nutritious food. Secretary George Eustice made the announcement in his speech at the Oxford Farming Conference on January 7, which focused on science.

In his speech, the Secretary said that techniques such as gene editing are really a natural evolution of conventional approaches to plant breeding. Gene editing, he said, "gives us the power to evolve plant varieties with particular traits far faster than was ever possible with conventional breeding and this opens up huge opportunities to change our approach and embrace sustainable farming." The Secretary also said that the UK had no choice but to slavishly adopt the European Court of Justice ruling that gene editing should be treated the same as genetic modification, however irrational and flawed they might be. "Now that we have left the EU, we are free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence and it starts today with a new consultation on proposed changes to English law that will enable gene editing to take place, so that we can achieve a simpler, scientifically credible regulatory framework to govern important new technologies," he added.

In separate press releases, Rothamsted Research and the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) welcome the new Defra consultation on gene editing. Rothamsted Director Professor Angela Karp said the consultation means recent advances in gene editing technologies will soon be contributing to a more sustainable and productive farming sector. BSPB chief executive Samantha Brooke said the change in regulation for gene-edited technologies will also promote research investment and new opportunities for international R&D collaboration as this shows that the UK is now open for business and keen to support more innovation-based policies.

Secretary Eustice's speech is available at the UK Government and on the Oxford Farming Conference websites. For more details, read the press releases from Rothamsted and BSPB.

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