The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act passed into law in March, allowing the creation and marketing of ‘precision-bred’ or genome-edited plants and vertebrate animals in England.

According to the government, the move will allow farmers to grow crops that are drought- and disease-resistant, reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides, and help breed animals that are protected from catching harmful diseases.

The Food Standards Authority is now working with ministers to implement secondary legislation to create a ‘robust, bespoke assessment process’ for precision-bred food, which it says will be underpinned by the ‘best available scientific advice in order to ensure precision-bred food reaches market swiftly and safely’.

The timescale is unknown, but Coffey is keen for quick progress, she told a recent event in London. “We need to get on with it frankly,” ​she said, adding that similar moves that are afoot in the EU. ​ Gene editing to facilitate precision breeding “will help us design climate resilient wheat and could help us design out the need for quite so much pesticide or use of artificial fertiliser,​ she said.

She stressed she wanted to see the ‘sensible’ use of the pesticides and insecticides. Coffey claimed, for example, that the controversial weedkiller glyphosate is “perfectly safe”​ and helps support regenerative agricultural techniques such as no-till farming, which can be used as an alternative to ploughing, which disturbs the life beneath the soil and releases carbon.  

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