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Gene-edited food on sale in two years – but what would this mean for UK farmers?

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The Government has changed farming regulations in the UK, in a subtle move which could see gene-edited food soon widely available. Growing and selling modified crops could become more commonplace over the next couple of years, thanks to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). While it only impacts England, the ruling will reduce red tape and costs, presenting opportunities to enhance widespread trials.

What do the rule changes mean for farmers?

Gene-editing is different to gene modification, which humans have used for centuries to cultivate food.

Instead of introducing new genes from other plants, scientists edit those already present, which they can use to increase yields, hardiness and more.

In practice, it should allow farmers to produce crops more likely to survive the trials of climate change and feed more people.

Experts also believe they would help breed enhanced immunity to plant-based diseases that have previously decimated some populations.

On the face of it, this should allow farmers to grow and sell more.

And it would have an additional positive influence on jobs, trade and innovation.

But several organisations have expressed concerns.

Among them is the prospect of more red tape exporting to EU member states.

In 2018, the bloc legislated to introduce restrictive new rules on genetic editing.

The ruling classes gene-edited crops as genetically modified, subjecting them to the same regulation.

Officials have essentially banned genetically modified crops across the EU, only permitted where sellers can get permits.

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Selling any British modified crops would see farmers have to overcome more hurdles than those introduced following Brexit.

Domestic growth and usage would make them a dividend, but only temporarily.

Earlier this year, the European Commission launched a review of its genetic modification rules which could eventually see them loosened.

Other experts believe gene editing is the wrong step towards more sustainable farming.

They state the environment is becoming increasingly unpredictable, and plants may end up requiring a lot of work to keep them flourishing ahead of adapting diseases and pests.

Joanna Lewis, director of policy and strategy at the Soil Association, said the Government should target the root cause of current crop blights.

She said ministers should invest in “solutions that deal with the cause of disease and pests in the first place”.

Potential solutions include increasing crop diversity, afforesting the decline in beneficial insects, and overcrowding.

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