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NUK Gov. Announces new legislation changes, accelerating R&D surrounding “gene-edited” food crops

Posted on September 30, 2021

The new “Brexit Britain” is aiming to become a scientific superpower, with P.M Boris Johnson hoping to pioneer advances in biosciences, artificial intelligence and battery and wind power technology. He has stated “This is an amazing moment for this country” and that “We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.” 

Easing the UK’s Food Innovations Process

New rule changes have come into place which makes it easier to research and develop “gene-edited” food crops, with the aim to improve crop weather resilience, nutrition and to reduce the use of pesticides. Gene editing allows changes to be made to the traits of an entire species or animal quickly and precisely, helping to yield stronger and healthier crops and livestock, faster than traditional selective breeding methods.

 Crops such as sugar beet and tomatoes are at the forefront of plans for genetic modification, and the rule changes will allow field trials of gene-edited crops without having to go through licensing processes that can take months, and cost between £5,000 to £10,000. Scientists will still need to inform Defra (Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) of their work, meaning that some regulations are still in place.

Food Innovation Examples

Previous examples of genetically edited livestock would be pigs bred to be immune to lung disease in Scotland, and in another case bred to grow quicker with less feed while producing more meat, with the actual composition of pork being improved for healthier human consumption. Another example is a heat-resistant, high-producing dairy calf with improved milk composition, or a sheep modified to improve wool production and immunity, decreasing high mortality rates at the hands of bacteria infections and lethal viruses. 

Food Innovation Research & Development vs Traditional Farming

However, critics of the changes have stated that the UK Government is once again missing the point, that the focus should be surrounding traditional farmers, helping them to deal with the wider causes of crop failure. During the Government consultation, 87% of the individual responses stated that gene editing could pose a massive risk to traditional breeding, and it should continue to be regulated as genetically modified organisms (GM). The changes have been described as a “weakening of standards meant to protect human health and the environment.”

Despite these concerns, academic institutes and public bodies exclaimed that there is no great risk, and the UK Government has stated that they will be working closely with farming and environmental groups, ensuring that the right rules and regulations are in place. The next step for the future of farming is primary legislation to change the definitions of a genetically modified organism, to exclude gene-edited crops or livestock that would have been created anyway through traditional breeding methods, just at a slower pace. Another aspect of the primary legislation would be allowing commercial marketing of gene-edited products without requiring GM regulation, but they would still be subject to rules around selling food.

 To find out more about the Research and Development Tax Credits scheme, click here.