Gene editing is the key to getting cheaper, greener food

With soaring inflation and the war in Ukraine causing a spike in global food prices, the Government is rightly looking for ways to ease pressure on consumers and make the UK more self-sufficient. Gene editing has the potential to revolutionise agriculture, increasing crop yields, improving disease resistance and reducing the need for environmentally harmful pesticides. But needless EU red tape has stood in the way of progress – until now.

Until this year, the UK abided by EU legislation controlling the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This retained legislation required that all genetically edited (GE) organisms are classified as GMOs, irrespective of whether they could be produced by traditional methods such as selective breeding. This meant that years of breeding were required to produce a crop with specific traits rather than creating the crop in a research lab. This increased investments costs dramatically and disincentivised innovation in the field. But, the Government’s recently announced Genetic Technology Bill removes this inherited red tape surrounding testing of gene-edited crops, separating them from GMOs and removing the barriers to testing the technology.

Gene edited crops can provide huge benefits. For example, the technology allows for the development of crops more resistant to pests and disease, reducing the need for herbicides and insecticides, protecting our bees and other pollinating insects. Last year, the Government allowed emergency use of neonicotinoids, known to be harmful to pollinators, in order to protect crop yields, despite evidence that flying insect populations in the UK have fallen by approximately 60% since 2004. Given this alarming fall in biodiversity, the need for gene edited crops to be deployed at scale to help reverse this trend is increasingly apparent.

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