Yesterday I was in The Houses of Parliament in the company of 138 international Nuffield Farming Scholars After a tour around the iconic debating chambers, the majestic robing rooms, and the Lobby that spawned the whole concept of ‘lobbying’, the scholars from all around the world, gathered in one of the bill committee rooms and spent nearly 2 hours talking with Robbie Moore MP, Lord Curry and then with the DEFRA Secretary of State, George Eustice MP.
But this was not the small but seismic shock in plant science that happened yesterday. Instead, a little later on, the House of Lords defeated a last-ditch attempt to stop a law going through giving the UK Government the option to allow research and field trials of gene-edited plants to proceed without the unnecessary and over-burdensome regulations normally associated with research into genetically modified plants. Given that a similar attempt in the House of Commons last week was defeated by over 300 votes to 2, clearly the political will was in favour making the change.
Critically, it was the first positive change in the law on gene-editing and genetic modification for over a generation.
A small step in terms of what was being proposed. It eliminates the unnecessary additional expense and regulatory burdens for researchers wishing to trial these crops. When it comes to research on gene-edited plants being carried out in our iconic plant science institutes and universities, it can save up to £200000 of tax payers money per trial, a significant drag on the UK’s ability to innovate in these areas.
But a proverbial giant leap for science in these areas when it comes to Government policy; despite huge lobbying attempts by the anti-GM/anti-GE groups, it passed uneventfully through Parliament.
The next stage is how to commercialise these research projects; since research and field trials will not help in the battle against climate change, improving the environment, or improving nutrition; only through the implementation of this technology can that happen. That is for another day.
Nevertheless, remember the 14th March 2022; that was the date that the UK finally took the first steps forward on gene-editing. A seismic shock in plant science in the UK.