Skip to content

Gene editing in agriculture to be allowed

  • by JW

“Let’s liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti genetic modification rules.”

Biotechnologists say it will speed research and stimulate investment.

“Gene Editing is a ‘sticking plaster’ – diverting vital investment and attention from farmer-driven action and research which could be yielding results”


At the very beginning of the year, the government launched a consultation on gene editing as it sought to move away from EU regulations on genetically modified organisms (GMOs):

“Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to consult on the implications of addressing this issue,” says a statement from the UK department for environment, food and rural affairs. Defra’s view is that organisms produced by gene editing or by other genetic technologies should not be regulated as GMOs if they could have been produced by traditional breeding methods…

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously pledged to abandon European environmental rules that have curtailed development of genetically modified crop plants and farm animals in the UK. “Let’s liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti genetic modification rules. Let’s develop the blight resistant crops that will feed the world,” Johnson said in his first speech as prime minister in 2019…

The consultation is a welcome development that will be broadly supported by UK farmers and crop scientists, said Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology and head of Genomics & Computational Biology at the University of South Wales. The ban on genome editing in agriculture by the European Court of Justice in 2018 caused widespread dismay and was out of line with mainstream scientific opinion, both in Europe and the rest of the world, Murphy noted. “Interestingly, EU agriculture ministers have now required the ECJ ban to be reconsidered by April 2021, and there might be new developments by then.” …

“Claims about gene editing’s benefits for the UK’s nature and the environment are subject to numerous assumptions and uncertainties. We need to take the time to consider these carefully, rather than accepting them without interrogation,” said Adrian Ely, reader in technology and sustainability at Sussex University…

While Brexit may have been roundly criticised by scientists, gene editing is one notable area that could benefit, suggested Jonathan Jones, a plant scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Cambridge University. “Excessive regulation impedes safe methods to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and Brexit enables regulatory flexibility,” he said.

UK sets out to diverge from EU rules on genetically modified organisms | Science|Business


In March, it was clear that the consultation would result in the current system being changed. 

This is from the Mail at the time:

UK government is set to lift the ban on controversial gene editing in agriculture so crops and livestock can be engineered to boost yields and protect them against disease

  • Ten-week consultation by DEFRA on gene editing concludes tomorrow
  • As it stands, genetic modification is banned on all foods sold in the UK
  • It is expected the consultation will dispose of this ban and allow gene editing
  • Animal rights groups and some scientists oppose the practice due to unknown long-term safety and welfare issues

UK government set to lift the ban on controversial gene editing in agriculture | Daily Mail Online


And this is from the i-news, which broke the story:

“There is a mindset that we would like to change the law on this – that tendency to go ahead is there. And everything I have heard so far from diverse stakeholder groups taking in the breadth of the views suggests that there is pretty general support for it,” Defra chief scientific advisor Professor Gideon Henderson told i…

However, Dr Penny Hawkins, head of the RSPCA’s animals in science team, said: “We have real concerns about gene editing and the animal welfare issues involved. The impact of these changes to the genome is very unpredictable and there are so many unknowns about the long term impacts of alterations to the animals’ genetic material.” …

Meanwhile, Gareth Morgan, of the Soil Association, said: “Gene Editing is a ‘sticking plaster’ – diverting vital investment and attention from farmer-driven action and research which could be yielding results, right now. The focus needs to be on how to restore exhausted soils, improve diversity in cropping, integrate livestock into rotations and reduce dependence on synthetic nitrogen and pesticides.” 

Government looks poised to lift the ban on gene editing in agriculture.


As reported within the last week, the government is keen to move forward:

Next month, the government is widely expected to follow through on Johnson’s promise by making it easier to test and commercialize some genetically engineered crops and livestock. The decision, which will be announced by 17 June, applies to plants and animals whose genes have been edited with precision techniques such as CRISPR. It will put the United Kingdom in line with several countries including the United States, and U.K. biotechnologists say it will speed research and stimulate investment…

Even the European Union is rethinking its approach on gene editing. An April report by the European Commission finds it could make agriculture more sustainable and found “strong indications” that EU law isn’t suitable for regulating it. Dirk Inzé, a molecular biologist at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, a Belgian research center, is heartened. But he predicts any reforms would run into problems with the European Parliament, where anti-GMO sentiment is still strong. “The debate will be very fierce,” Inzé says.