Gene editing is down to Scotland

A major consultation on the use of gene editing techniques in agriculture will be launched today by Defra Secretary, George Eustice.

But the planned inquiry, will only apply in England - with the devolved administrations expected to make their own arrangements on the issue.

Announcing the move at today’s Oxford Farming Conference, Eustice will claim that the adoption of gene editing techniques could unlock substantial benefits for nature, the environment and could help farmers with crops resistant to pests, disease or extreme weather and to produce healthier, more nutritious food.

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Speaking ahead of the announcement he said that the Government wanted to work with farmers and environmental groups to maintain highest food safety standards while supporting food production.

The Secretary of State said that for centuries, farmers and growers had carefully chosen to breed stronger, healthier individual animals or plants so that the next generation had beneficial traits:

“But this is a slow process. Technologies developed in the last decade enable genes to be edited much more quickly and precisely to mimic the natural breeding process, helping to target plant and animal breeding to help the UK reach its vital climate and biodiversity goals in a safe and sustainable way.”

He stressed that gene editing was different to older genetic modification techniques where DNA from one species was introduced to a different one – but despite gene editing simply speeding up the selection of genes already present, the European Court of Justice, in contrast to the approach adopted in many other countries, had imposed the same strict restrictions on the two techniques.