Post-Brexit UK likely to back crop gene editing, but won’t abandon EU’s strict GMO rules

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Moves to facilitate the development of gene editing once the UK is free from EU regulation at the end of the year will provide a real boost to researchers and farmers, says the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB).

The government is due to launch a consultation on the subject in the next few weeks, but recent comments from Defra secretary George Eustice suggest he is keen to encourage such new breeding techniques (NBT).

In a recent discussion with NFU president Minette Batters, Mr Eustice said that, when it came to conventional genetic modification (GM) – taking a gene from one plant or animal and putting it into another plant of an entirely different genus – there were still ethical and food safety concerns.

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“We probably wouldn’t change the EU rules that are already there, although we would make them work in a more effective way that doesn’t allow politics to get in the way of scientific judgements,” he said.

But Mr Eustice added the government was much more supportive of gene editing.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) made an “error of judgement” in saying that gene editing – for example, taking a gene from one strain of wheat and putting it into another strain of wheat – should be treated the same as GM.

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