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UK Moves to Loosen Rules on Gene-Edited Crops and Animals

Could be the most significant policy breakthrough in plant breeding in several decades, experts say

Next month, the UK is expected to follow through on Prime Minister Boris Johnson's promise to make it easier to test and commercialize genetically engineered crops and livestock. The decision applies to plants and animals modified using the gene editing technology known as CRISPR.

The move will align the UK with US, and UK biotechnologists say it will speed research and stimulate investment. Under the U.K. policy change, gene-edited plants and animals might not need detailed applications and reviews before field trials and commercial approval. In Europe, by contrast, any commercialized genetically modified organism (GMO), regardless of how it was created, faces a lengthy risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority and must be approved by a majority of member nations before it can be planted. “It means everything just grinds to a halt,” says Wendy Harwood, head of crop transformation at the John Innes Center, a U.K. public research organization. In 2018, the European Court of Justice reaffirmed that gene-edited organisms require the same regulatory scrutiny as other GMOs.

Check out the article in Science to learn more about the potential policy change.