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NIAB, Rothamsted Research, Euroseeds welcome UK's Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Actqrcode

Mar. 27, 2023

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Mar. 27, 2023

Rothamsted Research
United Kingdom  United Kingdom

NIAB welcomes Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act

Crop research organisation NIAB has welcomed the announcement that Royal Assent has been granted to a new legislative framework which is set to accelerate the development of higher-yielding, more nutritious and climate-resilient crops in England.

NIAB chief executive Professor Mario Caccamo said:

″The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act brings our rules into line with other countries around the world, including Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil and Argentina, by taking the products of more precise breeding techniques such as gene editing out of the scope of the restrictive rules applied to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), where those products could have occurred spontaneously in nature or as a result of conventional breeding methods.

″It follows the introduction in April 2022 of a simplified regulatory process for conducting field trials of precision bred crops, which has already stimulated new research activity across a range of crop species and traits. These include the development of wheat with improved food safety, oilseeds with enriched Omega-3 oils, tomatoes with enhanced vitamin content, and barley with the potential to improve livestock productivity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

″The new regulatory framework confirmed today should provide a more straightforward route to market for innovations like these. Gene editing offers significant opportunities to support healthier, safer and more sustainable farming and food production systems, at a time when such advances are urgently and increasingly needed.

″While Royal Assent represents a significant milestone, however, it is not the end of the process. The Act itself provides a framework for more detailed implementing rules to be introduced through secondary legislation over the coming months. To deliver on its objectives for research, investment and innovation, the Government must ensure that these arrangements are proportionate to the scientific evidence of risk, and do not single out these techniques for disproportionate or unnecessary requirements which go above and beyond those currently applied to conventionally bred plant varieties,″ finished Professor Caccamo.

Rothamsted Research welcomes new GE law - UK Bioscience sector now open for business say scientists

Chief Executive Professor Angela Karp and other Rothamsted scientists have welcomed the news that the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act has passed into law.

Professor Karp said: ″It will mean recent advances in gene editing technologies will soon be contributing to a more sustainable and productive farming sector. We’ve already seen the huge benefits genome editing brings to areas such as medicine – it’s now time to apply the same sort of innovation, together with responsible regulation, to our food production.

″The new law will significantly speed up our ability to test enhanced crops in the field. With the triple threats of climate change, a burgeoning human population, and widespread biodiversity loss hanging over us, the sooner we can get more resilient, more nutritious, nature-friendly crops to market the better.″

The hope is that genome editing of crops will lead to increased yields, improved nutritional content of food, and increased resilience to pests and diseases.

Benefits to the environment from the technology could include less land being used for farming and a reduction in farm inputs such as water, fertilisers, and pesticides - as well as a reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions, says genetic engineering pioneer, Professor Johnathan Napier.

″The UK’s bioscience sector is now open for business,″ he said. ″Early benefits of gene editing for UK agriculture could include gluten-free wheat, oilseeds with heart-healthy fats, disease-resistant sugar beet and potatoes that are even healthier than those we have now.

″We can also use GE to remove unwanted genes such as allergens and toxins. It is tremendously exciting that this powerful genetic technology will now be regulated in a much more enabling manner, allowing society to benefit from its potential.″

Precision breeding involves using technologies such as gene editing to tweak the genetic code of organisms – creating beneficial traits in plants that through traditional, breeding would take decades to achieve.

This enables scientists to safely create foods that are more flexible, adaptable and plentiful for years to come.  

Under the provisions of this Act, a new science-based and streamlined regulatory system will remove plants produced through precision breeding technologies from regulatory requirements applicable to genetically modified organisms.  

It will also establish a new science-based authorisation process for food and feed products derived from precision bred plants.  

Someone whose research will benefit from the bill is Prof Peter Eastmond, who is exploring how precision breeding emthods can be used to develop grasses with a higher fat content, which can improve animal feed by making it more energy-rich and which has the potential to supress methane emissions from livestock.  

He said: ″The opportunities this new genome editing law will bring are genuinely exciting. I strongly believe that genome editing can contribute to making farming net zero. The increase in leaf total lipid content that we’ve achieved in the lab using GE is likely sufficient to significantly enhance productivity and reduce methane emissions from cattle and sheep if replicated in pastures.″

Professor Nigel Halford, who is currently running Europe’s first field trial of genome edited wheat, added: ″This is great news. It will make it much easier for us to test the low acrylamide wheat lines we are developing in the field, which is essential if we are to find out if they could be suitable for wheat breeders to use. The possibility of low acrylamide wheat products being available to consumers in the future has moved one step closer.″

Euroseeds - Moving towards precision breeding: United Kingdom enables plant breeding innovation

Euroseeds welcomes the UK’s approval of the precision breeding bill, to enable plant breeding to better contribute to address challenges such as climate change, food security, and sustainable farming.

The legislation aims to modernize England‘s agricultural sector by promoting new technologies and techniques, including precision breeding. While the EU is discussing the regulatory approach for New Genomic Techniques – NGTs (the EU term for precision breeding) since 2008, the UK managed to implement a differentiated and enabling regulatory approach within a few years after Brexit.

This is a hugely significant piece of legislation for Britain’s plant breeders, the first time in more than two decades that regulations have been brought forward which seek to enable and support the use of genetic innovation in agriculture – rather than to restrict or impose additional requirements, states BSPB (British Society of Plant Breeders). In doing so, it recognises the importance of plant breeding innovation in meeting future food needs sustainably.

″The UK’s approval of the bill on precision breeding is a welcome development that reflects the country’s commitment to science-based policymaking and innovation,″ said Garlich von Essen, Secretary General of Euroseeds.

The precision breeding bill aligns the UK with the growing number of countries around the world that take a differentiated and enabling regulatory approach on NGTs, not regulating conventional-like NGT products as GMOs. With this the UK is in a competitive advantage to researchers, breeders and farmers in the European Union.

″We encourage the European Commission to put forward a proposal that aligns with the approach taken in UK and other countries. This would allow plant breeding to efficiently support the EU Green Deal and its Farm to Fork strategy and to stay competitive, concludes von Essen.


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