This Bill has its second reading in Parliament today, which is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will amend regulatory requirements for the development and marketing of precision bred plants and animals in England, paving the way for the introduction of genome editing into our food and farming system.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has carried out extensive work on the social and ethical issues that arise in relation to the use of genome editing in farmed animal breeding, and we have consistently raised the importance of protecting animal welfare as part of this regulatory change.

Ahead of the debate, our Assistant Director Dr Pete Mills has written a commentary on the Bill with particular reference to the areas addressed in our in-depth report. Key points in the commentary are as follows:

  • The Bill provides a framework for the governance of the release and marketing of precision-bred organisms and products, though most of the detail remains to be determined through Regulations, so the final governance arrangement remain uncertain.
  • Potentially, it addresses many areas of concern (enabling innovation, ensuring product safety, securing animal welfare).
  • The process gives the initiative to industry, with oversight reactive and potentially opaque.
  • Further measures will be required to ensure that farmed animal breeding as a whole, and the use of genetic technologies in particular, are orientated towards addressing the challenges facing the food and farming system.

Along with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and UKRI's Sciencewise Programme, we have initiated a major public dialogue on genome editing and farmed animal breeding.

It is expected that the outcomes of this public dialogue will inform the development of governance for which the Bill provides a framework and help to set the broader terms for future research and innovation.