Gene technology bill to tackle the most pressing environmental issues of our time

Legislation to unlock new technologies to boost food production and help farmers grow more productive crops will return to Parliament today – paving the way for Britain to become the best place in the world to invest in research and agri-food innovation

Third reading of the Bill is scheduled for today (Monday 31 October) and is expected to go to the House of Lords the following day.

By introducing a more proportionate and science-based regulatory system for precision plants and animals, this will open up opportunities to develop crops that are more resistant to disease and the effects of climate change such as drought and flooding, and less dependent on pesticides.

Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer said:

We are already seeing how new genetic technologies can increase yields, make our food more nutritious, and produce crops that are more resistant to disease and extreme weather conditions.

British scientists are leading the world in precision farming and this bill will put Britain at the forefront of agricultural research and innovation – opening the door to more investment and continuing our work to provide farmers with the tools they need to innovate and use smart new tools. technologies.

The Gene Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill covers precision plants and animals developed through techniques such as gene editing, where the genetic changes could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding methods . This is different from genetic modification (GM), which produces organisms containing additional genes.

Although there is great potential to increase innovation, the government recognizes the need to protect animal welfare in the new regulatory framework. That’s why we take a step-by-step approach, enabling the use of precision breeding technologies with plants first followed by animals later.

Defra chief scientific adviser Gideon Henderson said:

This is an important time for agricultural science. The ability to use gene editing to make precise, targeted changes to the genetic code of organisms, in a way that can mimic traditional breeding, enables the development of new crop varieties that are more resistant to pests, healthier to eat and more resistant to drought and heat as the climate changes.

For centuries, traditional breeders have used our understanding of genetics to select plant varieties with desirable characteristics. Gene editing allows precision breeding to perform the same type of genetic modifications much more efficiently and precisely, greatly reducing the time it takes to create new varieties. Precision farming is a powerful and important tool to help us meet the challenges of biodiversity and climate change, while feeding an ever-growing world population.

Professor Nigel Halford, crop scientist at Rothamsted Research, said:

It is extremely exciting to see this Bill pass through the House of Lords as it will pave the way for this powerful technology to be used in crop improvement rather than research.

We are already behind much of the world in the application of precision farming techniques and we strongly hope that the bill becomes law as soon as possible.

Further information :

The law project :

  • Remove plants and animals derived from precision farming technologies from the regulatory requirements applicable to the release into the environment and the commercialization of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).
  • Introduce two notification systems; one for precision-bred organisms used for research purposes and the other for commercialization purposes. The information collected will be published on a public register on GOV.UK.
  • Establish a proportionate regulatory system for precision-bred animals to ensure animal welfare. We will not be making changes to animal regulations until this system is in place.
  • Establish a new scientific authorization process for food and feed products developed using precisely selected plants and animals.

Opportunities brought by the new legislation:

Weather Resistant Wheat

  • Developing climate-resistant wheat will help increase food production in a crop that 2.5 billion people around the world depend on.
  • Researchers at the John Innes Center in Norwich have used gene editing techniques to identify a key gene in wheat that can be used to introduce traits such as heat resistance while maintaining high yield.
  • This discovery offers an exciting opportunity to identify gene variations that may give wheat varieties resilience to climate change.

Non-browning banana

  • Bananas are a key food crop around the world – but there is significant wastage with over 50% not eaten and 10%-15% lost due to fruit bruising after harvest.
  • Tropic, a leading agricultural biotechnology company in the UK, recently developed a non-browning banana using precision breeding techniques.
  • Given the high perishability of the fruit, this innovation has the potential to reduce the amount of wasted bananas, reduce carbon emissions and increase farmers’ incomes.

Disease resistant chickens

  • Avian flu is a major threat to farmed chickens worldwide, with some strains killing up to 100% of birds in a flock. In some cases, variants of the virus can infect people and cause serious illness.
  • In a collaboration between Imperial College London, the Pirbright Institute and the Roslin Institute, a research study has shown the potential of using gene editing to produce disease-resistant chickens. The virus was no longer able to grow inside cells with the genetic change.
  • The use of gene editing could help control the spread of disease which is urgently needed to protect chickens and reduce risks to human health.

On the Rothamsted research:

Rothamsted Research is a world-renowned, not-for-profit research center that focuses on strategic agricultural science for the benefit of farmers and society around the world.

It is also the oldest agricultural research institution in the world, dating back to 1843.

Its main objectives include:

  • Provide know-how, data, best practices and new technologies to improve performance, resilience and value.
  • Increase the productivity of crop and livestock systems.
  • Combat weed, disease and insect resistance to agrochemicals and improve soil health.
  • Improving natural capital and reducing the carbon and nutrient footprint of agriculture.
  • Add new nutritional, health and bioeconomic value to crops and other products.

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