British lawmakers could soon relax restrictions on genetically altered foods, with new legislation proposing more gene editing be allowed on certain crops, while insisting they will not constitute “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), which are subject to heavy regulation.
The new ‘Genetic Technology’ bill that was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday, is described by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a way to “cut red tape and support the development of innovative tech to grow more resistant, more nutritious, and more productive crops.”
“These precision technologies allow us to speed up the breeding of plants that have natural resistance to diseases and better use of soil nutrients so we can have higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilisers,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement, adding that “Outside the EU we are free to follow the science.”
The new bill is more in line with the American stance, as it considers gene-editing to be fundamentally different from genetic modification, which involves the introduction of DNA from one species into another. Though a number of gene-edited crops can also be produced through more traditional cross-breeding methods, genetic editing can achieve the same results much faster and with more precision.
Some environmental activists have insisted there is no meaningful difference between the two, with a spokesperson for the Friends of the Earth organization arguing that “Gene editing is genetic modification by a different name.”
“It still focuses on altering the genetic code of plants and animals to deal with the problems caused by poor soils, the over-use of pesticides and intensive farming,” the organization said.
The government has nonetheless argued that cutting regulations for the practice could dramatically speed up the creation of new and enhanced crops and ultimately improve the country’s food security.