In response to a public consultation conducted earlier in 2021, the UK government has confirmed that it plans to introduce legislation which will allow research and development to begin on gene-edited crops.
Applying to England only at this stage, Brexit has allowed the UK to set its own rules around the regulation of genetic technologies. However, it will still be a number of years before produce from gene-edited crops are on retail shelves.
Gene editing is different from genetic modification, because it does not result in the introduction of DNA from other species and creates new varieties similar to those that could be produced more slowly by natural breeding processes. However, gene edited crops are currently regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
According to the UK government, gene editing has the potential to allow farmers to grow plants that are “more nutritious, more resilient to climate change, and less reliant on pesticides or fertilisers”.
It also has not ruled out amending the law allowing gene editing in animals, suggesting that it could lead to improved animal welfare and a lower carbon footprint from livestock production.