UK ahead of the curve on genetic technology

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to gene edited crops, according to the Quadram Institute
The UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to gene edited crops, according to the Quadram Institute

Related tags GMO gene editing

The UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), heralding untapped potential to address global food security and biodiversity issues, according to Quadram Institute’s chief scientific officer.

His comments followed challenges to the European Commissions’ (EC’s) upcoming proposal to deregulate new GMOs. This would see the new generation of untested GMOs – also known as new genomic techniques – excluded from current GMO legislation.

At last week’s Europe’s Environment Council, seven ministers from Austria, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Slovenia raised strong concerns about the approach taken by the EC and the potential harmful impacts of a deregulation on nature.

Safety checks

These ministers questioned the proposal’s eroding of safety checks for new GMOs and the lack of evidence and scientifically-sound methodologies in the Commissions’ preparatory work.

However, Quadram Institute chief scientific officer professor Martin Warren highlighted the potential the development of genetic technologies had for helping address global issues like food security, and biofortification with key micronutrients as populations increasingly choose more plant-based diets.

“The EU is clearly developing its stance on genetic editing, but the Westminster government is ahead of the curve with the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill expected to receive Royal Assent over the next week or so,”​ said Warren.

Gene edited crops

The Government announced plans to relax regulations surrounding gene-edited crops in 2021, with the focus to be on plants produced by genetic technologies where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods.

 “Once enacted, the Precision Breeding Bill will enable the use of gene editing tools in England to make precise changes to the genomes of plants to give them beneficial traits or characteristics,” ​Warren continued.

This could include crops that are more drought-resistant or need less fertiliser or pesticides. And it could open the way to more nutritious crops, providing vital missing nutrients to our diets or making staple foods that are healthier for us all and more sustainable for the planet.”

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