The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill is government legislation intended to encourage agricultural and scientific innovation by ‘unlocking’ the potential of new technologies to promote sustainable and efficient farming and food production. 

Specifically, the bill seeks to ensure that plants, animals, and food and feed products developed using precision breeding technologies—in other words those modified using specified technological methods such as gene editing to replicate changes which can occur naturally—are regulated “proportionately to risk”. Consequently, its provisions would remove these products from the regulatory system for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in favour of a new regime. 

The government contends this approach will deliver several benefits. They include cutting the cost and production time to deliver more nutritious and disease-resistant crops, helping adaptation to climate change, and enhancing the health and welfare of animals through greater resistance to diseases and the reduced use of antibiotics. 

However, reaction to the bill has been mixed. Whilst farming and industry groups have largely welcomed the measures, campaign groups have raised concerns over the safety and efficacy of such technologies, and the potential impacts on animal welfare, for example. Concerns have also been expressed over the lack of labelling requirements for precision-bred food and derived foodstuffs, and the potential implications for the UK’s internal market given that this is a devolved area. 

In Parliament, Labour welcomed the scientific principles embodied by the bill. However, it has consistently criticised the regulatory regime intended to implement and monitor these technologies as weak and inadequate. Other opposition parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have joined such criticism. The Scottish National Party has raised several objections regarding the implications of the bill for the Scottish market and Scottish consumers. 

The bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons. This briefing examines these issues in preparation for the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords on 21 November 2022.

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