WESTMINSTER’S efforts to identify post-Brexit business opportunities have concluded that the UK should embrace gene edited crops now it is no longer party to the European Union’s limitations on biotech.
The proposal was one of 120 recommendations contained in a report issued by Prime Minister Johnson’s Task Force on Innovation Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR), which argued that Brexit offered a ‘one-off opportunity’ to develop new domestic regulations to ‘boost productivity, encourage competition and stimulate innovation’.
TIGGR’s report has been welcomed by the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, Julian Sturdy MP, who said it was a ‘major step forward’ in liberating the UK’s strengths in agricultural science and innovation.
“We are particularly pleased that the issues of gene editing and sustainability metrics feature so prominently,” said Mr Sturdy. “These are policy areas on which this Group has been particularly active, because we believe they will be central to unleashing our capacity for innovation to support productive, sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.”
On gene editing, the TIGRR report’s Headline Recommendation 14 states that ‘the UK Government should actively support research into and commercial adoption by UK farmers and growers of gene edited crops, particularly those which help the transition away from agrochemicals to naturally occurring biological resilience’.
The report said that EU rules on genetic technologies were ‘locking Britain’s farmers and world class agri-science sector out of major opportunities to increase crops yields, reduce the environmental impact of farming, help tackle climate change and develop a new range of bio-energy and nutritionally enhanced crops’, and called for rapid regulatory reform to ensure gene edited crops – which could have been produced through traditional breeding methods – are regulated as any other new variety.
On the need for a comprehensive system of sustainability metrics for food and agriculture, the report said there was a growing recognition that hi-tech, productive farming could be environmentally sustainable, by helping farmers produce ‘more with less’. Building on the data and metrics work initiated as part of the UK Agri-Tech Strategy, it called for this work to be accelerated to implement the data sharing provisions in the Agriculture Act 2020, and to develop a comprehensive system of environmental metrics for sustainable agriculture, incorporating the environmental impacts of production systems from field to fork, to support clearer food labelling.
Mr Sturdy said: “As a Group we have long advocated the need to embed data science and sustainability metrics at the heart of a policy agenda focused on securing the optimum balance between food production, resource use and environmental impact.
“We believe access to metrics capable of objectively and consistently monitoring that balance will be essential to set targets and measure progress for sustainable efficient production, to develop coherent R and D programmes, to understand and disseminate advice on best practice throughout the industry, and to provide meaningful information to consumers relating to the resource use, environmental impacts and climate change implications of each unit of food produced, whether a litre of milk or a kg of potatoes. We strongly welcome this recommendation and will do everything we can to support its rapid and effective implementation.”