Farming: Government call for Scotland to back  breeding bill

A call has been issued for the Scottish Government to join the UK Government in taking forward new legislation to ease restrictions on the use of precision breeding techniques in developing new varieties of crops and animals.

Legislation which will simplify the adoption of crops developed by techniques such as genetic engineering begins its journey through the UK Parliament today - but as it applies to a devolved area, it will apply only in England.

Supporters of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill claim that the removal of what they term “unnecessary barriers to research” put in place by EU legislation will be crucial in tackling domestic and global food security, while also offering environmental and sustainability benefits.

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But Scotland’s SNP/Green administration has long made plain its intention to stick with the existing strict controls and align itself with Europe which is currently conducting its own review.

However, Scottish researchers, politicians and farmers yesterday made it plain that access to developments stemming from such technology would play a critical role in the industry’s future.

And in a letter to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon, Defra Secretary George Eustice and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack called on Scotland to join the bill.

“By the Scottish Government joining us in taking forward this legislation, we would be able to ensure consistency in food regulation and the approach to the precision bred organisms across the UK, upholding our priority of ensuring consumer safety.

“We encourage you to embrace this opportunity to unlock the benefits of scientific research and development in this country and ensure that the UK continues to invest in innovation in the agri-food industry and reap the wider potential benefits from it.”

The letter pointed out that the aim was to enable plants and animals developed through precision breeding techniques to be authorised and brought to market under a simple regime:

“We are committed to proportionate, science-based regulations that protect people, animals and the environment,” said Eustice and Jack.

It also highlighted the fact that the UK had world recognition in the field of genetics and genomics research through institutes such as Roslin and the James Hutton Institute (JHI).

Professor Helen Sang OBE, Head of Genetics at Roslin said gene editing offered the opportunity to address the combined challenges of rapidly increasing global demand for healthy and nutritious food with the goal of net zero carbon emissions.

Director of Science at JHI, Lesley Torrance, said the institute welcomed both the focus of the Bill which was on the assessment of the properties of the new crop and not the process used to develop it and the transparency of this information which would be held on a public register.

Scotland’s farmers also made it plain that access to the developments coming from the use of such techniques should play an important part in the country’s future, with NFU Scotland stating that the techniques would help Scottish farmers and crofters respond to the climate emergency and address biodiversity loss.

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