UK Government plans to 'unlock the power' of gene editing have been described as the 'most significant policy breakthrough in UK plant breeding for more than 20 years'.

British Society of Plant Breeders chief executive Samantha Brooke said: "We welcome confirmation that Defra will adopt a more scientific and proportionate approach to the regulation of genetic technologies such as gene editing.”

Ms Brooke said that by differentiating the gene editing procedure from the stricter genetically modified organism rules, Defra would provide plant breeders with greater research and innovation freedoms. “This will help to develop healthier, more nutritious food, and make farming systems more sustainable in the face of climate change,” she suggested.

“Developing an improved crop variety using conventional breeding to improve its yield, nutritional quality, or resistance to disease can take up to 15 years. However, gene editing can help reduce that timescale significantly. This is why this change in legislation is so important.

“This sends a clear signal that the UK is set on a more pro-innovation trajectory," said Ms Brooke. "It certainly boost prospects for plant breeding companies large and small, as well as scientists in the public sector, to continue improving our food crops for the benefit of society and the environment.”

She noted that the National Listing system of plant variety registration only allows new food crops to be approved if they offer in-field performance and food quality characteristics improvements under extensive testing: “This tried and tested regulatory system can also embrace new varieties produced using gene editing techniques, which replicate what plant breeders are already doing, but in a much quicker and more targeted way.”