Support is growing for an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to encourage new plant-breeding techniques in the UK. Tom Allen-Stevens reports.

The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) is urging members of the House of Lords to support the amendment which could give Britain’s scientists and breeders access to the latest gene-editing techniques.

For more on gene-editing and crop improvement, see CPM‘s Genetics Special.

This would mark a step change in prospects for crop improvement, says BSPB, resulting in more sustainable, productive and climate-resilient agriculture.

Amendment 275, tabled by Lord Cameron of Dillington and supported by Baroness Hayman, Lord Krebs and Lord Rooker, will be debated by Peers during Committee Stage currently taking place in Parliament.

The amendment paves the way for the Government to consult on and, if appropriate, make a simple change to the Environmental Protection Act which would reverse EU rules classifying gene-edited products as GMOs.

Widespread support

The move, initiated by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, has attracted widespread support from across the scientific, farming, plant breeding, food processing and international development sectors.

It would be an important step in re-aligning Britain with the regulatory stance of other countries around the world, says BSPB  new chief executive Samantha Brooke, where scientists, breeders, farmers and consumers are already benefiting from access to precision-breeding technologies, classed outside the EU as conventional.

“Advanced gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 can improve the speed and precision of crop breeding, opening up significant opportunities to keep pace with demands for increased agricultural productivity, resource-use efficiency, more durable pest and disease resistance, improved nutrition and resilience to climate change,” she explains.

New BSPB chief executive Samantha Brooke

“However, the European Court of Justice ruled in July 2018 that these techniques should be treated as GMOs, putting the EU at odds with how these techniques are regulated in other parts of the world, such as the US, Argentina, Brazil, Australia and Japan.

“Defra Ministers have repeatedly indicated the Government’s view that gene edited products should not be regulated as GMOs if the DNA changes could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding methods. This amendment offers a simple regulatory solution for this once the UK leaves the EU.

“Britain’s plant breeders fully support early Government action on this issue, in line with the Prime Minister’s pledge to liberate our biosciences sector. We would urge Peers to speak out in support of amendment 275 as it is introduced at Committee Stage,” says Samantha.