The Law has changed to allow gene-edited food to be developed and sold in England.
Receiving Royal Assent from King Charles, the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act passed into law on March 23rd enabling the development and marketing of gene-edited crops.
Gene editing, genome editing, or genome engineering is a type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism
According to the BBC: Supporters of the technology say it will speed up the development of hardier crops that will be needed because of climate change.
Critics say that the change could bring ”disaster” to our food production and the environment.
Gene editing involves making precise changes to an organism’s DNA to enhance certain characteristics.
The new law also opens the door to the development of gene-edited farm animals, but a further vote by MPs will be required before it is allowed, again only in England.
The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have not permitted the commercial use of gene editing.
The UK’s largest animal charity, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has warned that pets could now be subjected to gene editing under the new law.
According to the Guardian: The RSPCA has said that the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act applies to all vertebrate animals, not only farmed animals and that it could lead to cats and dogs being gene-edited to include extreme features.
The law allows the creation and marketing of “precision-bred” or genome-edited plants and vertebrate animals in England. The government said it would allow farmers to grow crops that are drought- and disease-resistant, reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and help breed animals that are protected from catching harmful diseases.
The UK environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, described the act, which received royal assent on Thursday, as a “Brexit freedom”, but the RSPCA said it could have dire consequences for animal welfare.
David Bowles, the head of campaigns and public affairs at the RSPCA, criticized what he described as an “ill-judged policy”. He said the charity had tried to get the government to include an exemption for pets, but was “sadly ignored”.
He added: “Gene editing could be a huge step backward for animals. We do not believe this act should include animals, whether they are farms, pets or wildlife. Invasive procedures are needed to create each line of gene-edited mammals, there is no history of use for this powerful technology, and it can cause unintended changes to the genome, with unpredictable effects. The RSPCA has serious animal welfare and ethical concerns about this.”
Genome editing is a group of techniques that enable changes to an organism’s DNA, and the animal charity warned that editing an animal’s genome involved procedures that could cause “pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm”. Gene editing was previously subject to the strict rules and regulations that control genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but under this new law, gene-edited animals and food will not be classed in England as GMOs and will not need to be labeled as such.