The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) has welcomed the
publication today of a new report by the independent Regulatory Horizons
Council (RHC) providing recommendations to Government on how the UK can
take a leading role in shaping future regulation of genetic technologies
to support the rapid and safe introduction of beneficial new crop varieties.
In particular, the report notes that genetic innovation creates
opportunities to transform agri-food systems through nutritionally
healthier crop varieties, disease resistance, reduced insecticide and
fungicide use, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved climate
resilience, and contributions to sustainability and biodiversity
The report also supports the proposals set out in the recent Defra
consultation to take simple gene edited crop varieties ‚?? which could
have occurred in nature or through conventional plant breeding ‚?? out of
the scope of existing GMO regulation. The RHC also sets out its
longer-term recommendations for what a more streamlined and risk-based
approach to regulation might look like for all genetic technologies,
But the Society issued a stark warning to Government that decisions
affecting future investment in the UK plant breeding sector will not
only depend on the promise of a more proportionate and enabling
regulatory framework, but also on a more joined up approach to R&D
investment, and a resolution to the current operational challenges
facing the plant breeding and seeds sector post- Brexit.
‚??BSPB welcomes the RHC report‚??s ambition for the UK to be a world leader
in the future regulation of genetic technologies, balancing a sensible
risk-based approach with a more ‚??innovation-friendly‚?? approach, and we
particularly welcome the report‚??s endorsement of the Government‚??s
proposals to take simple gene editing out of the scope of current GMO
regulations. We look forward to an announcement from Defra very soon as
a first step towards freeing up research and innovation in this area,‚?Ě
said BSPB chief executive Samantha Brooke.
‚??In its report, the Regulatory Horizons is also right to highlight the
importance of genetic innovation as the foundation for more sustainable
agriculture, particularly in helping farmers adapt to climate change and
to protect crops against pests and diseases while reducing chemical use.
The vital contribution of plant breeding was highlighted earlier this
year in a May 2021 study by HFFA Research GmbH which concluded that,
since 2000, improved varieties have accounted for two- thirds of the
productivity gains in UK arable crops. Without plant breeding over the
past 20 years, the study found that crop yields would be 19.1% lower,
and 1.8 million hectares of additional land would be needed in other
parts of the world to meet the UK‚??s food needs, placing additional
pressure on scarce global resources and causing more than 300 million
tonnes of additional GHG emissions.
However, alongside a commitment to better regulation, Ms Brooke urged
the Government to act on plant breeders‚?? concerns about the hiatus in
research funding between early-stage genetic research and its
application in commercial breeding programmes. This was first identified
as a problem 17 years ago in a BBSRC review of crop science led by
Professor Chris Gilligan. According to a more recent UKRI review
published earlier this year, by Professor Jane Langdale of the
University of Oxford, a fragmented R&D pipeline in plant genetics still
remains a significant barrier to innovation, and major opportunities to
exploit advances in our understanding of plant science are being lost.
Ms Brooke also warned that while leaving the EU might open up longer
term opportunities for regulatory divergence and a more pro-innovation
approach, the short-term challenges for the UK plant breeding and seeds
sector were focused on the day-to-day realities of making this year‚??s
and next year‚??s harvests happen.
‚??The Brexit dividends for UK-based plant breeders have been in short
supply to date, and the reality is that our members are facing increased
costs, bureaucracy and uncertainty while operating in a much smaller
market-place. This will inevitably be focusing minds on investment
decisions for the future, and we would urge Ministers to heed and act on
these immediate concerns,‚?Ě said Ms Brooke.
Plant breeders welcome new report on future regulation of genetic
technologies - BSPB