An amendment has been tabled to the Agriculture Bill which would allow the UK to break away from restrictive EU rules on gene editing.
In July 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that precision breeding techniques should be regulated in the same way as genetic modification.
At the time, scientists warned the move would see European farmers ‘falling further behind the rest of the world’, where gene editing is regulated differently, and UK Ministers said they did not agree with the judgement.
Now the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture has worked up an amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would pave the way for the UK to adopt the internationally recognised definition of a GMO, exempting gene editing from the scope of GM regulation.
Chairman of the group, MP Julian Sturdy, has written to Defra Secretary George Eustice to urge the Government to support the change in law.
He said: “We have a unique opportunity, through the Agriculture Bill, to put in place enabling arrangements which will give force to the changes Defra Ministers have repeatedly indicated they wish to see, and which will mark an important first step, in the words of our Prime Minister, to liberating the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector.
“These steps will provide an important signal that as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, we will use the best available science to address critical challenges of climate, food security and nutrition, global inequality and sustainability while at the same time supporting the rural economy and strengthening the UK’s position as a global hub for investment and research.”
The amendment is being supported by the scientific community, with NIAB also writing to Mr Eustice to push for it to be accepted by the Government.
The letter, from NIAB chief executive Dr Tina Barsby, was co-signed by leaders from Rothamsted Research, The John Innes Centre, the Plant Sciences Department at Cambridge University and the Moredun Research Institute, among others.
A separate letter supporting the amendment from the British Society of Plant Breeders was also sent to the Defra Secretary.