Legislation is being returned to Congress today that will boost food production and unlock new technologies to help farmers grow more productive crops. This paves the way for the UK to become the best place in the world to invest in agri-food research and innovation.
The bill’s third reading is scheduled for today (Monday, October 31), and it will be presented to the Senate the next day.
Adopting a more balanced, science-based regulatory system for precision-breeding plants and animals, making them more resilient to disease and the impacts of climate change such as droughts and floods, and reducing the use of pesticides. Opportunities will open up to develop less dependent crops.
Agriculture Minister Mark Spencer said:
We are already seeing how new genetic techniques can increase yields, make food more nutritious, and produce crops that are more resistant to disease and extreme weather.
British scientists are world leaders in precision breeding and this bill will put the UK at the forefront of agricultural research and innovation, opening the door to more investment and helping farmers innovate and become new and smarter. We will continue our efforts to provide you with the tools you need to use. technology.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill covers precision-breeding plants and animals that have been developed through techniques such as gene editing, where genetic alterations may have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding methods. This is different from genetic modification (GM), which creates an organism containing additional genes.
While there is great potential for increased technological innovation, governments recognize the need to protect animal welfare in new regulatory frameworks. That’s why we use precision breeding techniques to take a stepwise approach: first plants, then animals.
Gideon Henderson, Defra’s Chief Scientific Advisor, said:
Now is an important time for agriculture. Gene editing can be used to make precise and targeted changes to an organism’s genetic code in a way that can mimic traditional breeding, making it more resistant to pests and healthier. It allows the development of new crop varieties that are eaten and are more resilient to drought and heat associated with climate change.
For centuries, traditional breeders have used our understanding of genetics to breed plant cultivars with desirable traits. Gene editing allows precision breeding to make the same types of genetic changes in a much more efficient and precise manner, greatly reducing the time required to create new breeds. Precision breeding is a powerful and important tool to feed a growing world population while addressing the challenges of biodiversity and climate change.
Professor Nigel Halford, crop scientist at Rothamstead Research, said:
It will be very exciting for this bill to pass the Senate. Because it paves the way for this powerful technology to be used to improve crops, not just research.
We are already lagging behind much of the world in the application of precision breeding technology and we strongly hope that the bill will be enacted as soon as possible.
The bill is:
- Exclude plants and animals produced by precision breeding techniques from regulatory requirements governing the environmental release and marketing of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
- Introduce two notification systems. One for precision breeding organisms used for research purposes and one for marketing purposes. The information collected will be published on the GOV.UK public registry.
- Establish a proportional regulatory system for precision-bred animals to ensure animal welfare is protected. No animal regulatory changes will be introduced until this system is in place.
- Establish a new science-based approval process for food and feed products developed using precision-bred plants and animals.
Opportunities brought by the new law:
weather resistant wheat
- Developing climate-resilient wheat will help increase food production from the crops on which 2.5 billion people worldwide depend.
- Researchers at the John Innes Center in Norwich have used gene-editing techniques to identify key genes in wheat that can be used to introduce traits such as heat tolerance while maintaining high yields.
- This discovery provides an exciting opportunity to identify genetic variations that can make wheat cultivars resilient to climate change.
- Bananas are an important food crop globally, but there is considerable waste, with more than 50% not consumed and 10% to 15% lost to post-harvest fruit spoilage.
- Tropic, a leading UK agricultural biotech company, 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 incomes for farmers.
disease resistant chicken
- Avian influenza is a major threat to poultry farming worldwide, with some strains killing up to 100% of flock birds. In some cases, variants of the virus can infect humans and cause serious illness.
- A joint study from Imperial College London, the Pirbright Institute and the Roslin Institute has shown the potential to use gene editing to produce disease-resistant chickens. The genetic change made the virus unable to multiply inside the cell.
- The use of gene editing could help control the spread of the disease, which is urgently needed to protect chickens and reduce risks to human health.
About Rothamstead’s research:
Rothamsted Research is the world’s leading non-profit research center focused on strategic agricultural sciences that benefit farmers and societies around the world.
It is also the oldest agricultural research institute in the world, dating back to 1843.
Its main purposes are:
- We provide know-how, data, better practices and new technologies to improve performance, resilience and value.
- Increase the productivity of crops and livestock systems.
- Improve soil health by tackling weed, disease and insect resistance to pesticides.
- Enhance natural capital and reduce the carbon and nutrient footprint of agriculture.
- Add new nutritional, health and bioeconomic value to crops and other products.