UK must lead EU on precision breeding

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The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) has urged the UK Government to ensure Britain retains its leading edge over the rest of Europe by further promoting the research, investment and innovation of precision breeding.

“The EU Commission’s proposals for regulating the products of New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) in the European Union potentially threaten the UK’s opportunity to take advantage of the recently passed precision breeding bill. We must remove the barriers that stand in the way of the UK benefiting from this legislation before Europe chooses to embrace it too,” explains BSPB, CEO, Sam Brooke.

The EU has proposed two distinct pathways for NGT plants to be placed on the market. NGT plants that could occur naturally or through conventional breeding would be regulated in the same way as conventional plants and seeds, with no separate statutory requirement for risk assessment, food and feed marketing authorisation, traceability, food labelling or coexistence arrangements. Other NGT plants would be subject to the EU’s existing GMO regulations.

Simplified field trial arrangements

“Simplified field trial arrangements introduced in March 2023 led to an increase in research activity, with eight new field trials of precision bred crops notified in England under the new arrangements, twice as many as the entire EU-27 over the same period. We need to move to support this, not choke it,” adds Mrs Brooke.

The field trials demonstrated that precision breeding techniques provide the potential for plant scientists, breeders and farmers to keep pace with demands for increased agricultural productivity and resource-use efficiency, healthier food, reduced chemical use, and resilience to climate change. However, a clear route to market is needed to realise these benefits.  

Through the Precision Breeding Act, the UK Government led the way in diverging from outdated EU rules classifying gene edited products in the same way as GMOs. But the detail of how the Act’s provisions will be implemented is not yet finalised, particularly in relation to food and feed marketing. 

“Based on the Commission’s proposals, there is a real risk that the EU could be on course to eclipse our lead, by regulating NGT products – where they could have occurred naturally or through conventional breeding – in the same way as conventionally bred varieties. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is looking to establish an entirely separate regulatory process for precision bred food and feed products, potentially involving expert committee scrutiny, risk assessment, public consultation, parliamentary approval and Secretary of State sign-off. That could significantly drive up the red tape, time and costs involved in bringing new precision bred crops to market,” she says.

“BSPB urges UK Ministers, and the Food Standards Agency in particular, to ensure implementing arrangements for the Precision Breeding Act are as streamlined as possible, and reflect the overwhelming scientific evidence that precision bred products are at least as safe as their conventionally bred counterparts,” she concludes.


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