UK Looks to Relax Regulations on Genetically Modified Foods

In the near future, British legislators could relax rules on genetically modified foods; the new legislative proposals would allow for more gene editing to be carried out on certain types of crops, while insisting they will not constitute “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), which are subject to strict regulation.

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The new bill, if passed, would put the United Kingdom more in line with the United States’ position on GMOs. The U.S. considers gene-editing to be completely different from genetic modification, which involves transfering DNA from one living organism into another. However, there are gene-edited crops that can also be created through methods that involve traditional cross-breeding; genetic editing can achieve the same outcomes at a faster and more precise rate.

The bill would initially roll back restrictions on crops, but it also contains provisions for livestock as well, as gene-editing can be used to make animals that would be more resistant to disease and other infections. The practice has been more controversial for animals due to fears it could end up harming them; however, the new bill gives legislators the power to cut back on bureaucracy; if they are confident that it provides proper precautions.

The UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has described the new ‘Genetic Technology’ bill that was proposed in Parliament on Wednesday, as a means to: “cut red tape and support the development of innovative tech to grow more resistant, more nutritious, and more productive crops.”

George Eustice, the U.K.’s Environment Secretary said that: “These precision technologies allow us to speed up the breeding of plants that have natural resistance to diseases and better use of soil nutrients so we can have higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilizers,” he then added that: “Outside the EU we are free to follow the science.”

The U.K. government argues that cutting red tape in the industry could potentially speed up the production of new and stronger crops: which would improve the nation’s food security.

Gideon Henderson, who is a scientific Adivsor for the U.K. governemtn said that: “We anticipate [the bill] will enable precision-bred crops to navigate the regulatory system much more quickly, in something like one year compared with approximately 10 years under the present regime.”

On the other hand, environmental activists have stressed that there is no difference between gene-editing and genetic modification; a spokesperson for the Friends of the Earth organization argues that: “Gene editing is genetic modification by a different name.”

The organization claimed that: “It still focuses on altering the genetic code of plants and animals to deal with the problems caused by poor soils, the over-use of pesticides and intensive farming.”

The present bill will only apply to England; however, disputes will potentially arise with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all of which have their own rules and regulations for the production and sale of GMOs and genetically modified foods.

The Scottish government has already declared that it will resist efforts by legislators in England to impose their authority in its territory - even though the UK’s environment secretary has suggested that neither Scotland nor Wales could prohibit the sale of such crops.