The UK government has proposed legislation to open the way for gene‑edited food products in England. The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (“Precision Breeding Bill”) sets out a new regulatory regime that may provide a faster and easier path to market for certain gene-edited plants, animals and derived products.
Overview of the Precision Breeding Bill
The Precision Breeding Bill applies to “precision bred organisms”. These are defined in the Precision Breeding Bill as plants and animals that have been genetically modified through the use of “modern biotechnology”, where that genetic modification is of a type that could have been produced using “traditional processes” (i.e. selective breeding, grafting, embryo transfer, spontaneous mutation, etc.). The definition of “modern biotechnology”, for the purposes of the Precision Breeding Bill, aligns with the set of techniques listed in regulation 5(1)(a) or (b) of the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002/2443). Ultimately, the effect of the Precision Breeding Bill is to create a distinction in law between ‘precision bred organisms’ and all other ‘genetically modified organisms’ (“GMOs”) where the genetic modification could only have been produced using genetic modification technologies (e.g. introducing genes from one species into another, entirely unrelated, species).
The Precision Breeding Bill provides that a person wishing to use precision bred organisms for research or for marketing must first notify and register the precision bred organism. Once notified and registered for research and development, the precision bred organisms can be released i.e. planted, bred or cultivated. No specific authorisation is required. Before marketing the precision bred organism, a person must apply for a ‘precision bred confirmation’, which indicates that the Secretary of State is satisfied, on the basis of information provided by the person, and scientific advice, that the organism qualifies as a precision bred organism. The UK government will maintain a public register of all notified information.