The U.K. may permit gene editing of crops and livestock for the first time as Brexit made it possible for the country to overhaul its agricultural policy.
The U.K. government is reviewing its farm policy after leaving the EU on Dec. 31. It is consulting on whether to regulate gene-edited organisms differently from genetically modified products. E.U. legislation requires that all gene-edited organisms be classified as genetically modified organisms (GMO), which are subject to a near-total ban in the bloc.
Gene-editing has been hailed by its proponents for its potential to improve agriculture by developing crops that are more resistant to infestation and extreme weather. Its critics cite concerns over the long-term safety to human health and ethical considerations in manipulating the genetic stock of plants and animals.
U.S. regulators approved a genetically engineered salmon as fit for consumption in 2015. Dairy calves have been gene-edited to ensure they do not have horns. Chinese scientists have produced cashmere goats that grow longer hair.
Elsewhere, gene-edited tomatoes that can lower blood pressure have recently been approved for sale in Japan, and Japanese researchers have used genome-editing to produce “docile” tuna to reduce collision fatalities.
In 2018, the Court of Justice of the E.U. ruled that gene editing was essentially the same as genetic modification and should be subject to the same strict rules. The U.K. retained the legislation at the end of the Brexit transition period.
“Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that Mother Nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age,” U.K. Environment Secretary George Eustice was quoted by the Guardian as saying.
“This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.”
The government consultation runs until March 17.