This week, the UK government introduced a Genetic Technology Bill to Parliament proposing the relaxation of regulations on genetically-edited products, like tomatoes enriched with vitamin D and wheat with reduced levels of the amino acid asparagine, which turns into carcinogenic acrylamide during the process of baking or toasting bread, according to The Guardian and UK Research and Innovation.
The new legislation would at first apply only to plants, BBC News reported. The gene-editing technology isn’t in use currently because, before Brexit, the UK was subject to European Union rules.
Some experts question the government’s assurance that gene-edited food will lead to greater food security and environmental gains, reported The Guardian. While gene-edited products will be allowed, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will continue to be heavily regulated. In the GMO process, a gene is removed from one plant and placed in another.
The gene editing process involves the switching on and off of genes by removing a small portion of DNA, BBC News reported.
The techniques allow changes that could be achieved with cross-breeding to happen over a much shorter period of time.
Liz O’Neill, the director of umbrella organization GM Freeze, whose members include Friends of the Earth, Garden Organic and the Soil Association, as well as scientists and farmers, said that the modified regulations on gene-edited products removes an important part of the regulatory process.
“What has been removed is the need for an independent risk assessment and the need for transparency,” said O’Neill, as reported by BBC News.
Kierra Box with Friends of the Earth said the environmental organization opposes all genetic modification (GM).
“Gene editing is just a subset of GM,” Box said, as The Guardian reported. “If we’re interfering with the genetic codes in nature, we don’t know how those things respond.”
While the Welsh and Scottish governments will continue to prohibit gene-edited products from being developed, the gene-edited products made in England would be allowed to be sold all over the UK, which could lead to conflicts.
Another issue with the “precision breeding” bill is that products made using the process wouldn’t be labeled in stores, reported New Scientist.
While the gene editing legislation currently only applies to plants, there are plans to extend it to animals, which Dr. Pete Mills, an assistant director at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said brings up ethical concerns for people, The Guardian reported.
“What they care about is animal welfare, what the purpose is, who the benefits accrue to,” said Mills, as reported by The Guardian. “The legislation doesn’t really have any thought about the purposes for which these technologies are going to be used. I think that’s problematic.”