Farmers and consumers stand to benefit after scientists concluded that gene-editing techniques could make food production more sustainable, say plant breeders.
The long-awaited European Commission study into the regulatory status of Novel Genomic Techniques (NGT) paves the way for gene-edited crop varieties to be grown in the UK and across Europe.
The study concluded that NGT products have the potential to make plants more resistant to disease, environmental conditions and the impact of climate change – creating healthier foods and reducing the need for farm inputs.
Gene-editing, which involves cutting and splicing DNA within the same organism to create new characteristics, is banned across the EU. But that could now change after the study concluded that current rules are not fit for purpose.
The European Commission will now embark on a wideranging and open consultation to discuss a new legal framework for these biotechnologies – a decision welcomed by NIAB chief executive Tina Barsby.
“This is great news,” said Dr Barsby. “The EU study goes further than many in the scientific community were expecting in highlighting the potential benefits of these techniques in providing faster, more precise access to genetic improvement.”
The study was prompted by a European judgement which classified products of precision breeding techniques as genetically modified organisms – regardless of whether they could have occurred through natural variation or conventional breeding.
Dr Barsby said the ruling made no scientific sense – and was at odds with the regulatory stance of most other countries. It wsa encouraging that the new study explicitly recognised the need for change, she said.
“The UK government has consistently made clear its opposition to the ECJ judgement, and the recent Defra consultation on gene-editing paves the way for a more enabling and science-based approach to regulating these techniques in England.”