New approach to regulating precision bred products could unlock investment in crop genetic research and innovation

20 Sep 2023
Wheat growing in a field
NIAB welcomes the progress made at today’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board meeting, which paves the way for a more streamlined and evidence-based approach to regulating food and feed products developed using new precision breeding techniques such as gene editing.

As a result, England could be on course to adopt one of the most progressive and enabling regulatory systems for gene edited products in the world, opening up significant potential for increased inward investment and international research collaboration.   

The proposals discussed by the FSA Board today, which are intended to be brought forward as secondary legislation under the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, are similar to the regulatory approach adopted earlier this year by Canada, and recently proposed by the European Union, in not requiring separate risk assessment, traceability or labelling of precision bred products considered to be equivalent to their conventionally bred counterparts.    

Commenting on the plans discussed at today’s FSA Board meeting, NIAB chief executive Professor Mario Caccamo said: 

“It is difficult to over-state the significance of these technologies for crop genetic research and innovation in this country. By adopting one of the most progressive and enabling regulatory systems for gene edited products in the world, and with such an internationally recognised research base in plant genetic science, England could genuinely be on course to become one of the best places globally to invest in agri-food research and innovation."

"NIAB is already in discissions with a number of gene editing companies and scientific partners internationally regarding potential research collaborations. The positive direction of travel considered at today’s FSA Board meeting can only serve to strengthen those opportunities.”

Professor Caccamo pointed to the advances already made in precision breeding research since simplified arrangements for experimental field trials were introduced in March 2022:

“Since new, simplified arrangements were introduced in March last year for outdoor trials of gene edited plants, nine new field trials have been notified in England, twice as many as for the whole of the EU over the same period. The focus in each case is on using new precision breeding techniques to make our farming systems more sustainable, whether in terms of reducing food waste (pod-shatter resistant oilseed rape, non-browning potatoes), reducing pesticide use (late blight resistance in potatoes), healthier eating (Omega-3 enriched camelina, tomatoes higher in provitamin B3), or safer food (low-asparagine wheat).”   

“As each of these examples demonstrate, precision breeding techniques such as gene editing open up major opportunities to improve our food system through scientific innovation. It is encouraging that the Food Standards Agency are listening to the science, and recognise the enormous potential to deliver on their policy aims to make our food supply healthier, safer and more sustainable,” said Professor Caccamo.