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Crop Biotech Update

UK Government Gets Support of Scientists After Decision To Ease Gene Editing Rules

October 6, 2021

Scientists in the United Kingdom are applauding the decision from its government to review regulations around gene editing which could allow the UK to revise the rules on the use of gene editing technologies that can enable changes in an organism's DNA to allow it to become more precise and efficient. This, according to them, is the most significant policy breakthrough in UK plant breeding for more than 20 years.

The UK government plans to adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies such as gene editing which will ease the burden on developers doing research involving plants and allow a policy change to exclude organisms with genetic changes that occur naturally or through traditional breeding. Scientists from around the UK have welcomed this initiative, calling it a first step towards reducing unnecessary and unscientific regulatory barriers to the use of new breeding innovations.

"Adopting a more proportionate and enabling approach to regulation will open up increased opportunities for international research collaboration, inward investment and technology-based exports, bringing a major boost for UK science," according to Prof. Helen Sang of the Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh. "I view Defra's intention to incentivize innovation as pointing the way to capture the benefits of this technology, supporting UK innovation in both future and animal agriculture," said Prof. Bruce Whitelaw of Roslin Institute as an agreement to his colleague.

Samantha Brooke, Chief Executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) also released a statement. "We welcome confirmation that Defra will adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies such as gene editing. This will help develop healthier, more nutritious food and make farming systems more sustainable in the face of climate change," she said. "This sends a clear signal that the UK is set on a more pro-innovation trajectory. It will certainly boost prospects for plant breeding companies large and small, as well as scientists in the public sector, to continue improving our food crops for the benefit of society and the environment," she added.

Throughout the outpouring support from the scientific community, some pointed out that there is still much to be done to fully optimize the benefits of gene editing. "Given the urgency of climate change, biodiversity loss and food security and the enormous potential genetic technologies have for developing crops for sustainable agriculture, today's announcement on gene editing does not go far or fast enough. The Government must bring forward modern, progressive and proportionate regulations to allow gene-edited products to be brought to market and provide consumer confidence," said Dr. Nicola Patron of the Earlham Institute. "Removing some of the barriers for developing gene-edited crops will help UK scientists progress their research - but continuing to prevent the commercial application of their research risks starving plant science of the critical investment needed," she emphasized.

Read the full statements by scientists from the Roslin Institute, BSPB, and Earlham Institute to learn more.

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