The government has responded to industry pressure to allow UK access to gene-editing by announcing a consultation on the future regulation of the technology this autumn.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture promoted an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, currently at its committee stage at the House of Lords, to allow gene-editing to be used in the UK. The move was supported by a range of farm, agrisupply and research bodies.

Before the amendment had been debated, Defra minister in the Lords, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, announced a public consultation this autumn on the post-Brexit regulation of precision breeding techniques such as gene editing. He said there is a very strong case for taking simple gene-editing techniques out of the scope of GM regulation, and confirmed the government’s view that gene- edited products whose DNA changes could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding techniques should not be regulated as GMOs.

“Many scientific institutes, along with the breeding industry and some EU member states such as Sweden, share our view that the current rules are unscientific and a solution is needed soon if we are to reap the economic and environmental benefits these technologies have to offer, such as more resilient crop varieties, reduced use of synthetic pesticides and more disease resistant animals,” Lord Gardiner noted.

“Greater access to these techniques will allow future developments to be driven by a wider range of research organisations, mostly led by small businesses and public research organisations, not just large multinationals,” observed Lord Cameron of Dillington, who moved the amendment. “I am therefore grateful that the government has so readily accepted the case for moving away from the EU’s unscientific rules in this area and has committed to taking early action by consulting on the issue in the autumn.”