The British government wants to relax the rules on CRISPR research. That is the conclusion is the public research that environmental secretary George Eustice launched.
CRISPR breeding or gene editing is different from genetic modification in the sense that the introduction of foreign DNA is only temporary, it is crossed out again according to traditional methods. “It is a technique that can solve some of our biggest challenges: food security, climate change and biodiversity loss. We are going to work closely with agricultural associations and environmental groups to ensure the right balances in the regulation,” said Environment Minister Eustice.
The first step will be a possible revision of the legal definition of genetically modified organisms to see whether CRISPR and other technologies could be excluded if the same result could have been achieved with more traditional techniques. This should make research and development easier. In the first instance, the emphasis will be on crops, but in the long term, GMO regulation in general and gene editing of animals can also be considered.
The government stresses that food safety standards will be maintained. Consumers must not be misled, there must be no health risk and no lower nutritional value. Robin May the head of the Scientific Committee of the Food Standards Agency says that consumers should be given the choice: “we work closely with all stake holders to ensure that the regulation of genetic engineering is appropriate, robust and meets our food safety and consumer protection goals.
Scientists will have to inform the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) when conducting field trials. For the time being, the focus is on research and development. It will not be immediately possible to get new crops to the supermarket and to the consumer.
The fact that the UK can relax its rules is a result of Brexit. The European Commission would also like to examine whether CRISPR could be more flexible in its regulation.