Gene-editing animals and plants to get the green light

Gene-editing animals and plants to get the green light

Boris Johnson’s government will press ahead with legislation allowing genetic editing of animals and crops in a bid to improve UK agricultural productivity.

The Gene Technology (Precision Farming) Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech aims to promote ‘efficient’ farming and food production – scrapping rules inherited from the EU after Brexit.

Gene editing is considered less risky than genetic modification (GM) since it does not involve the introduction of DNA from another species.

But the practice is still controversial, with campaigners warning of the potentially ‘catastrophic’ implications for animal welfare of a ‘high-tech free-for-all’.

The use of the technology was restricted by a 2018 ruling from the European Court of Justice which determined that it should be regulated in the same way as GM.

Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has been keen to find ways to ditch EU rules so the UK can drift further and further away from Brussels.

The government hopes simplified regulations will allow gene editing to increase disease resistance in crops, which in turn can reduce pesticide use – as well as boost production.

Gene editing changes the traits of a species of plant or animal much more quickly and precisely than traditional selective breeding, which has been used for centuries to create stronger crops and livestock.

Plans for the bill include two notification systems where ranchers and scientists will have to notify the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of precision organisms. Information collected on organisms bred with precision will be published in a public register.

The world animal protection group said the legislation had ‘potential for catastrophic welfare implications’ – urging the government to take animal welfare into account when drafting the bill of law.

Lindsay Duncan, the group’s agricultural campaign manager, said the genetic editing “fails to account for the serious welfare impacts that selective breeding has already had on millions of farm animals in the UK. -United”.

GM Freeze, an umbrella group of organizations seeking to highlight concerns about the impact of gene editing, also argues that not enough is known about gene editing.

The group said the government “seems to have decided that what we don’t know doesn’t matter and that we have to take our chances with potential negative effects on people, animals and the environment”.

The Soil Association has previously criticized gene editing as ‘not a long-term solution’ to crop and animal diseases – warning of ‘free high tech for all’.

Apart from the Gene Editing Bill, a Brexit Freedoms Bill in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech promises to “seize the benefits” of EU withdrawal by making it easier to ease regulations.

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