LONDON, Sept. 29 (Reuters) – UK Agriculture and Environment Minister George Eustice on Wednesday announced that regulations on gene editing in agricultural research would be relaxed in England following a public consultation.
The rules will now be largely aligned with conventional breeding methods for research and development on plants, although scientists will still be required to notify the government of any research trials.
“It’s a tool that could help us tackle some of the biggest challenges we face – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss,” Eustice said in a statement announcing the easing.
The technology has faced the same strict rules that apply to research involving genetic modification.
Editing genes is different from genetic modification (GM) in that it does not involve the introduction of DNA from other species.
Proponents argue that gene editing can be seen as equivalent to conventional selection but much faster.
Opponents, however, believe the technology will be used to advance corporate interests rather than tackle the underlying issues facing agriculture, including the lack of crop diversity and the decline of beneficial insects.
“Changing the DNA of crops and animals to make them temporarily immune to disease is not a long-term solution; we should invest in solutions that address the root cause of diseases and pests first, ”said Joanna Lewis, director of policy and strategy at the Soil Association.
The rule change will not apply to the marketing of plants to consumers, as editing and genetic modification are still subject to the same rules, although a further review is planned.
The European Union applies the same rules to both gene editing and genetic modification, although the European Commission has launched a review that could open the door to a possible easing of restrictions on modified plants. Read more
The change only applies to England, as agriculture is decentralized in the UK and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own rules.
Reporting by Nigel Hunt; edited by Susan Fenton and Jason Neely
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