New legislation ruled by MPs in Parliament on 31 October could help unlock the UK’s global leadership in plant genetic research and encourage innovation in agriculture to address the most pressing challenges of today – developing crops that are higher yielding, more nutritious, more resilient to climate change and less reliant on pesticides or fertilizers.
Crop science organization NIAB has welcomed the return of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill to complete its Commons stages and is urging MPs to support Bill’s ambition to drive innovation and investment in our agri-food sector and to open new opportunities for research organizations and businesses.
NIAB CEO Professor Mario Caccamo said the introduction of the Bill had already led to positive conversations between NIAB and prospective research partners and commercial investors.
“We are already seeing increased interest in UK-based research investment and strategic partnerships as a result of the Precision Breeding Bill and the signals it sends that Britain’s regulatory framework is set on a more pro-innovation trajectory. Importantly, that interest is coming not only from investors at home but also from overseas.”
“This could mark a turning point for UK-led innovation in plant genetics. For the past 20 years or so, the direction of travel for investment in crop science has been one-way – out of the UK to regions of the world such as North and South America which have adopted more favorable regulatory regimes.”
“Over that time, remarkably, the UK has retained its leadership in fundamental plant genetic science and gene discovery research. This new legislation could help supercharge the private sector investment needed to unlock potentially significant advances for more sustainable farming systems, improved nutrition, and climate resilience,” he said.
Professor Caccamo highlighted to a number of ongoing NIAB research projects involving gene editing whose prospects of commercial application would be boosted by Bill’s provisions, including coeliac-safe wheat, enhanced nitrogen and water-use efficiency in wheat, and flowering time variation in strawberries to extend the domestic growing season.
He added that greater access to technologies such as gene editing would boost NIAB’s ongoing efforts to unlock the genetic potential of neglected pulse crops, such as peas, faba beans, and soya, to provide a home-grown protein source with benefits for sustainable farming, healthy eating, and climate change.
“The focus for gene editing research at NIAB is to help develop crops and farming systems which are less dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilizers and which reduce the climate change impact of agriculture. These are all important objectives shared widely across the political spectrum for which new breeding technologies can offer tangible solutions,” said Professor Caccamo. “I would strongly urge MPs to support the Bill. Given the pace of climate change and insecurity of global supply chains, there is no time to waste.”