Gene-edited food can now be developed commercially in England following a change in the law.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act passed into law on 23 March 2023.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act covers precision-bred plants and animals developed through techniques such as gene editing. This is different to genetic modification (GM), which produces crops containing genetic changes that could not have occurred through traditional breeding or occur naturally.
The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have not permitted the commercial use of gene editing.
Gene editing in England had been covered under the same regulation that has restricted the commercial development of GM crops under EU law. Brexit has enabled the Westminster government to relax the rules for the newer technology.
The chief scientific advisor for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Prof Gideon Henderson, says that the new rules will lead to better food production and bring jobs and investment to England.
The Precision Breeding Act allows genetic changes that could also have been produced naturally or through traditional crossbreeding programmes. GM will not be permitted which involves the introduction of genes from other species.
Gene editing enables researchers to make precise genetic changes to a plant’s DNA, for example adding a gene to boost its growth or reduce dependence on fertiliser. The same change could be produced by crossbreeding different varieties, but it would take much longer.
The new law allows for the use of gene editing and other methods that may arise in the future, provided the end result is a crop that is no different to a variety that could have been naturally produced.