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PRECISION BREEDING ACT : GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD NOW LEGAL IN ENGLAND

As a result of a change in the law, genetically modified food can commercially be developed in England since 23 March 2023.

The new law also opens the door for the development of genetically modified farm animals, but a vote by MPs is still needed before this is allowed in England. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have not allowed the commercial use of genetic engineering.


There is very much controversy surrounding gene editing in food crops. Proponents of the technology say it will speed up the development of more sustainable crops, which are needed because of climate change. Critics say the change could spell "disaster" for our food production and the environment.


Gene editing allows researchers to make precise genetic changes to a plant's DNA, such as adding a gene to enhance growth or reduce dependence on fertilizers. The same change could be done by crossing different varieties, but that would take much more time. Scientists can now use precision breeding technology developed in the laboratory and bring it to the fields


The new law allows the use of gene editing and other methods that may arise in the future, provided the end result is a crop that is no different from a variety that could have been produced naturally.


The Scottish government has long opposed GM and wants to fall in line with the EU, although its position is opposed by NFU Scotland, which says it puts Scottish farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

The Northern Ireland government must follow the protocol agreed with the EU that requires it to stay in line with the rules on the definition of GM crops in Europe, which includes GM crops.


Some plant breeders in England are however enthusiastic about the use of gene editing.

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany, just outside Cambridge, has been breeding new varieties of crops for British farmers for more than 100 years.

They cross different varieties to produce new varieties that grow better and are more resistant to disease. Development can take 10 to 15 years. The head of the laboratory, Professor Mario Caccamo, told BBC News that he wants to use the technology to develop new varieties that can grow well in the hotter, drier conditions that the UK is experiencing more regularly due to climate change.

"If we look at how the population is growing and how much we are increasing our yields using traditional methods, we are falling behind," he said. "The projections show that we need to accelerate our research on how to improve crops, otherwise we will struggle to feed the world."


The UK is among the world leaders in plant genetics research. But that expertise has not taken off due to the effective ban on commercial development of the technology, proponents say. The hope is that the change in the law will attract new investment leading to new companies, new jobs and new food products.


Bayer Crop Science has developed genetically modified crops for use around the world and employs more than 30,000 people.

But in the UK, it employs 90 people in traditional plant breeding. The company is not yet ready to announce new investment plans in the UK, but Lindy Blanchard, the company's head of marketing in the UK, welcomes the change in the law.


The new law also stipulates that genetically modified animals, such as these disease-resistant pigs developed in Scotland, can be used on UK farms. But that still requires a vote by MPs at Westminster, once the government is satisfied that the animals will not suffer.


Below is the world map indicating countries where gene editing of food crops is allowed and banned ( the grey colored countries are countries for which no info is available ).



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