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Statement on Precision Breeding Techniques – 6 November 2020

Farmers, scientists and the seed sector are engaging with Scottish Government on precision breeding techniques.

NFU Scotland, AIC Scotland, University of Edinburgh Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security and The Roslin Institute believe precision breeding techniques such as gene editing have considerable potential to deliver benefits for food, agriculture, climate change and sustainable development.  They write:

“This is an issue which has been governed as part of the EU regulatory framework during the UK’s time as a Member State. As the UK leaves the EU, we believe there is now an important opportunity for our regulators in the UK to take an open minded approach to the possibilities presented by these world-leading technologies, as a potentially significant means of crop and livestock improvement.  

“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed it will shortly issue a consultation on the issue in England. As an area of devolved regulatory competence, we are calling for similar engagement from the Scottish Government to examine, properly and thoroughly, the case for developing precision breeding techniques within Scotland.

“In recent correspondence to our organisations, the Scottish Government Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon MSP recognised that precision breeding techniques have potential to improve sustainability, respond to the climate emergency and reduce the need for pesticides.

“This recognition is welcome: we strongly maintain that there are a multitude of positive sustainability benefits which could accrue from the adoption of this new technology.  It would allow us to create new varieties of crops which are more resilient to increased pest and disease pressure brought about by our changing climate and more extreme weather events. It would also allow us to enhance the yield and quality of animals and their products while improving welfare, efficiency and sustainability through new tools for genetic improvements. This is crucial in enabling our farmers to become truly sustainable.

“Moreover, Scotland is rightly proud of its reputation as a world-leading hub for agricultural and biological research, with internationally renowned centres of scientific excellence underpinned by a vibrant university sector. It is difficult to conceive how Scotland’s reputation for global scientific leadership could be maintained without equitable access to these widely used research techniques.

“We therefore consider it to be hugely important that future regulations allow industry to reap the benefits of these advances, not only to improve the resilience and sustainability of our food and farming industries, but also to boost employment in our science sector and to help attract and retain new talent.

“With Scottish Government awaiting the outcome of a European Commission study into the regulatory status of gene editing techniques, expected in April 2021, it is likely that the industry will not see progress on this issue ahead of the next Scottish Parliamentary election next May.

“However, the Scottish Government signalling open-mindedness to the science is a great step forward. As representatives of Scotland’s farmers, scientists, agribusinesses and plant and livestock breeders, we will endeavour to work closely and collaboratively with whoever forms the next Scottish Government to ensure proper and thorough consideration of the positive benefits of precision breeding techniques and gene editing before decisions about their future acceptability are made.”  

Published on behalf of:
NFU Scotland
AIC Scotland
University of Edinburgh Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security
The Roslin Institute

Date Published:


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