After several months of consultation, the British government was finally due to make public, on Wednesday May 25, its draft law (the Genetic Technology Bill) to facilitate the cultivation and marketing of new GMOs. The text concerns only plants whose genome has been locally modified (gene editing in English) using recent technologies consisting of activating or deactivating genes by taking a small part of the DNA. It excludes the marketing of plants whose genome would have been transformed by the addition of genes sometimes coming from completely different species (genetic modification in English).
The London initiative is a first in Europe, with the European Union continuing to ban most crops of genetically modified species – even locally without the introduction of exogenous genes (following a judgment by the Court of Justice of EU dating from 2018). Boris Johnson also touts this bill as one of the main “dividends” of Brexit, the divorce from Brussels having given the United Kingdom the possibility of diverging from the European rules to which it was bound until then. “ Let’s start freeing now [de ses contraintes] UK’s amazing biosciences sector, let’s develop hardier plants that will help feed the planet,” had thus launched the Prime Minister as soon as he took office, in the summer of 2019.
“Outside the EU, we are now free to follow science. These precision technologies will allow us to accelerate the breeding of plants with natural disease resistance and better use of soil nutrients to achieve higher yields with less pesticides and fertilizers.”also praised George Eustice, the Minister for the Environment and Agriculture, in a press release published on May 25.
Reluctance from Scotland and Wales
The decision to relax the rules (by excluding genetically “edited” plants from the regulation of GMOs) comes as 87% of people and 64% of companies who responded to the government’s public consultation, issued in September 2021, believe that gene editing poses a greater risk to human health or the environment than naturally occurring genetic modifications. The UK Agriculture Department added, however, that 63% of academic institutions and 82% of public bodies that took part in the consultation believe there is no higher risk.
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