Euractiv reports that the UK is currently aligned with the EU framework on gene-editing technologies, as organisms produced using these techniques are classified as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The decision to open its doors now to gene-editing – or new genomic techniques (NGTs), as the EU has recently labelled them – is a true game-changer for the UK’s post-Brexit trade and food policies.
The changes will apply only to England, with the governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland free to make their own decisions on the use of this technology and agricultural policy in general. This didn’t stop the government from celebrating a win for the UK as a whole.
The result of a consultation report on the move has sparked fierce criticism from campaigners, who pointed out that most individuals (87 per cent) and businesses (64 per cent) felt that gene-edited organisms pose a greater risk than naturally bred organisms. It also showed that most individuals (88 per cent) and businesses (64 per cent) supported regulating gene-edited products as GMOs.
“That the government ignores this weight of public opinion is a slap in the face for democracy,” UK campaign organisation GM watch wrote in an online statement.
It doesn’t seem that there’s much new in the government announcement that wasn’t already announced in January, as no precise timeline or information on the finer details have been offered.
While it’s still vague what exactly the change means in practice, the government commits to changing the rules relating to gene editing to “cut red tape and make research and development easier”. The aim is to allow gene-edited crops to be tested in the same way as naturally occurring new varieties.
The EU executive is currently reconsidering the framework on NGTs. Last week, it launched a consultation to collect feedback to guide its future legislative proposal on gene editing.
We are entering a delicate phase for biotechnology in Europe after three years of deadlock following the famous European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that stated NGTs should, in principle, fall under the GMO directive.