The UK government has opened a consultation into the regulation of gene editing in the UK, and into wider revisions for the GM regulations. These changes will affect us all, as citizens as well as scientists.
As an organisation that works across the food, agriculture and environment sectors, Fera can see considerable benefits arising from the judicious use of gene editing technology, for example by transferring desirable traits between varieties of the same species faster than current breeding methods, and arguably with less loss of genetic variation and fewer risks from accidental DNA changes elsewhere in the genome (off target mutations). We believe that with appropriate oversight, these technologies can offer great benefits and no greater risk than currently used methods. However, we acknowledge the novelty of the technology and the potential lack of awareness in the general public of the nature of gene editing, and so advocate a considered approach.
We consider that animals or plants that have been gene edited in such a way as to be indistinguishable from traditionally bred animals or plants should not be regulated under GM regulations. We take this position because individually, they don’t differ from plants or animals that were created using traditional breeding and therefore the risks should be no greater. This lack of difference gives a practical reason why these gene edited plants and animals will be difficult to regulate, as reliable detection of gene edited over traditional will be problematic, making enforcement difficult. Where consumer choice makes segregation of produce containing gene edited produce desirable, industry and Government will need to use the security of the supply chain and associated chain of custody to do so, an existing strength of Great Britain.
On the topic of the wider revisions to the regulations around GM, Fera would welcome a government review of regulations around all novel or higher risk crop and livestock traits on environment, not only those produced through GM or GE. We will act in partnership with Govt and other institutions to enable this change.
Many of the prime issues are around how much, as a country, we wish to use and exploit gene editing (and GM more generally). We welcome wider engagement with the general public, of which we hope this consultation will be the start; these revisions will have real term impacts on the food we eat and crops we cultivate. The public must be aware of the impacts and have the opportunity to make informed choices over their wish for labelling and regulation. As with GM regulations in the past, Government and industry should champion consumer choice where the public wish to exert this choice. Click here to read our full response to the consultation.