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Scientists demand clarity on how Chequers will affect gene editing research

A group of top scientists and industry leaders have written to Defra Secretary Michael Gove to demand clarity on how the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan will affect gene editing research.


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Scientists demand clarity on how Chequers will affect gene editing research

The letter, signed by the NFU, CLA and TFA, as well as a number of professors, was sent following a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice which declared gene editing (GE) should be governed by the same regulations as genetic modification (GM).

 

GE speeds up traditional breeding processes, allowing insect- or disease-resistant varieties of crops or breeds of animals to be developed quickly by replacing one DNA sequence with another.

 

Unlike GM, no foreign DNA is inserted into a gene-edited organism, which is why the rules surrounding GE had been unclear until the ECJ ruling.


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The signatories to the letter claimed this judgment would have ‘profound implications’ for international trade and UK researchers, plant breeders, farmers and consumers.

 

Though Mr Gove has previously shown strong support for gene editing technology, telling the Oxford Farming Conference it could help to develop higher yielding crops and more valuable livestock, the ‘common rule book’ on agri-food proposed in the Government’s Chequers plan could constrain the UK’s ability to diverge from the EU on this matter.

 

The letter read: “We are very concerned about the impact of this [ECJ] ruling, and particularly its effect in the context of Brexit and the recent White Paper on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

“The public and private research community and the agri-food industry need clarity from Government on how it will manage the implications of the EU approach to gene-editing alongside its proposals for a common rulebook between the UK and EU as put forward in the White Paper published July 12.

 

“We believe any barrier to innovation in plant breeding at this time should be of great concern to the government.

 

“We ask you to confirm that Defra will continue to take a science-based approach to regulation.”

Full list of signatories

  • Professor Dale Sanders, director, John Innes Centre
  • Professor Achim Dobermann, chief executive, Rothamsted Research
  • Dr Tina Barsby, chief executive, NIAB
  • Professor Colin Campbell, chief executive, James Hutton Institute
  • Professor Huw Jones, professor of translational genomics for plant breeding, Aberystwyth University
  • Professor Denis Murphy, professor of Biotechnology, University of South Wales
  • Professor Ian Crute, member of the Advisory Committee for Releases to the Environment and formerly director of Rothamsted Research, chief scientist of AHDB and member of the Agri-Food Technology Council
  • Professor Nick Talbot, executive director, The Sainsbury Laboratory (Norwich)
  • Professor Ian Charles, director, Quadram Institute
  • Professor Neil Hall, director, Earlham Institute
  • Minette Batters, president, NFU
  • James Gray, chairman, TFA
  • Tim Breitmeyer, president, CLA
  • Philip Wynn, chairman, LEAF
  • Andrew Lazenby, chief executive RASE and Innovation for Agriculture
  • Dr Penny Maplestone, chief executive, British Society of Plant Breeders
  • Michael Mann, managing director, DSV-UK
  • William Gilbert, managing director, Germinal
  • Rob Cowling, company secretary, Limagrain UK
  • Dr Richard Summers, head of cereal breeding and research, RAGT UK
  • Prof Chris Tapsell research director, KWS UK
  • Roger Keeling, chairman, Elsoms Seeds
  • Andrew McShane, managing director, HL Hutchinson
  • Chris Clayton, managing director, Agrovista
  • Mark Aitchison, managing director, Frontier Agriculture
  • Professor Jimmy Burke, chair of Scientific Strategy Board Agrii
  • John Bianchi, managing director, ProCam
  • Gary Mills-Thomas, managing director, Syngenta UK
  • Michael Muncey, head of UK and Ireland, Bayer
  • Michael Wagner, business director, BASF – Agricultural Solutions, UK, Ireland, Nordic and Baltics
  • Adrian Gough, UK & Ireland leader, Corteva Agriscience Agriculture Division of DowDuPont
  • Mark Buckingham, chair Agricultural Biotechnology Council
  • Robert Sheasby, chief executive, Agricultural Industries Confederation
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