New Legislation Changes the Future of Farming
On 23 March 2023, the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act passed into law in England, allowing use of gene-edited crops and livestock in English agriculture for the first time. The Act presents a route to fields and shopping baskets for precision-bred crops and livestock, and allows the establishment of new frameworks for regulation and authorisation. It represents a marked divergence from the EU, which does not permit growing genetically altered agricultural crops or rearing genetically altered livestock, and is being hailed by scientists and innovators as a major breakthrough in the modernisation of English agriculture.
Precision-bred crops and livestock are those which have been genetically altered, for example by gene editing, in a way that “could have resulted from traditional processes”. Accordingly, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into which a gene from an unrelated species has been introduced are not encompassed by the new provisions.
Research into precision-bred crops and livestock is well-established and offers exciting opportunities for the development of much-needed new varieties, such as crops that can cope with a changing climate, that cater for human or livestock nutritional needs, or that reduce the reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilisers. By definition, precision-bred varieties could of course be reached by traditional breeding schemes. These, however, require many years – even decades - of repeated trial-and-error, backcrossing and selection through multiple generations to yield germplasm with a desired trait. Precision breeding offers much needed speed, precision and agility in responding to food and environmental challenges.
The application of the Act’s new measures will be rolled out in staggered fashion, first for crops and then for livestock, once appropriate food standards and welfare regulations are in place.
J A Kemp has patenting expertise in gene editing and plant science including transgenic technology and plant breeding, new breeding techniques (NBTs) such as CRISPR gene editing, and herbicide/pesticide chemistry. See our Plant and Crop Science and Gene Editing and Engineering specialisms to find out more.