Today’s Solutions: May 22, 2024

As we deduce more about the future with the changing climate, it becomes clear that secure and reliable food production will be a challenge. Gene-edited products could be a big help in making climate-resilient crops and securing our food supply. 

A bill on genetic technologies before the UK Parliament would create an administrative structure that speeds up the development and marketing of gene-edited products by treating them differently than genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which are closely regulated. 

Professor Gideon Henderson spoke before the House of Lords on Wednesday and endorsed the bill, saying it could increase global food security and reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides

“We anticipate [the bill] will enable precision-bred crops to navigate the regulatory system much more quickly, in something like one year compared with approximately 10 years under the present regime,” Henderson said.

This bill could open the door to growing crops with greater yields and making them resistant to extreme weather, pests, and diseases. Henderson also mentioned that they could make tomatoes rich in vitamin D. It could also have a protected effect on livestock, like forbidding the breeding of fast-growing, unhealthy animals. 

Most importantly, the bill would distinguish gene-editing from genetic modification, which inserts genes from one species into another for desirable traits. Gene-editing is more like selective breeding but much faster. 

Some opponents say this is a genetic modification by another name, that it ignores more practical food solutions like diversifying crops or consumer habits, or that it will consolidate food power among a select few. The new bill, though, only opens up more possibilities and has not plotted a course in any of these directions yet.   

Prof Jonathan Jones, a plant scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, said: “The proposed changes in the regulation of gene-edited crops are a very positive step in the right direction and will align the UK better with regulations outside the EU.”

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