Government's proposals on Gene Editing

As you know, the Government has recently published draft legislation to amend regulations governing the use of gene modification techniques following its consultation between 7 January and 17 March 2021. It plans to exempt certain types of gene-edited plants from field trial regulation in England, and subsequently from the regulatory definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO).

I know the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has raised several major concerns about the legislation including a lack of detail about wider plans to reform GMOs, a lack of clarity about criteria used to assess which plants will qualify for the changed regulations, and a lack of safeguards or containment measures.

The Government’s plans would permit gene editing technologies to focus on plants produced by genetic technologies where genetic changes could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods.

In my view, since the original rules on genetic modification were adopted, technology has developed rapidly and a distinction can now be made between gene editing and gene modification, but any change must be accompanied by strong and robust regulation. 

There must be proper safeguards around gene editing and I will challenge the Government on those when the legislation is discussed, arguing for them to be strengthened.

We need a transparent and considered debate to enable us to reach an informed outcome rooted in scientific evidence and understanding. That must include a closer examination of the phrase “could have occurred naturally or could have been a result of traditional breeding methods” and it is essential that labelling rules ensure genuine consumer choice.

I believe that environmental safety and the safeguarding of biodiversity are paramount, that there must be no increase in the use of herbicides or pesticides, and I too am concerned about market concentration.

Moreover, any changes must carry public support, so robust scrutiny and regulatory arrangements are essential. The science has extraordinary potential, but there are also clear risks that need to be properly managed.

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