Restructuring the regulation of genetic technologies in the UK

13 September 2021

As a member of the Regulatory Horizons Council, Joyce Tait led the development of a report to the UK Government proposing how innovative genetic technologies for use in agriculture and food production should be regulated post-Brexit.

The Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC) is an independent expert committee established by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to provide impartial, expert advice on the regulatory reform required to support the rapid and safe introduction of new technologies.

The report, published on the 1st September, considers how the products of genetic technologies should be regulated. Products of genome editing techniques, which do not involve cross-species gene transfer, are likely to be the subject of an early decision on future regulation by the UK Government. Products of synthetic and engineering biology that do involve cross-species gene transfer and will deliver significantly greater long term benefits, should also be considered urgently.

The products of these genetic technologies are being designed to be safe for people and the environment, nutritionally healthier, pest and disease resistant, and climate resilient. They will also contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, helping to meet Net Zero policy objectives, to a circular economy, and to biodiversity protection and other UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The report recommends:

  • Adoption of a new regulatory pathway for the products of all genetic technologies, based on the properties of the product itself rather than the methods by which it was produced
  • Regulation of these products will be delivered in future through the sector-based regulatory systems relevant to the type of product – food, animal feed, food additive, crop, animal breed, coordinated through the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) on the basis of a revised remit
  • A focus on standards and guidelines, rather than hard law, particularly in the early stages of development, including balancing benefits and risks
  • A new approach to stakeholder engagement about the products of genetic technologies, including a long-term stakeholder advisory panel and guidance on how to conduct such engagement more equitably than has been the case in the past.

These changes could significantly reduce the cost and time to market for the products of genetic technologies, provide more certainty to businesses looking to invest in these technologies, and increase the participation of small companies with radically innovative ideas.

The report has the potential to constructively influence how governments think about the regulation of these technologies in future and to stimulate innovation in the development of new products that can benefit consumers, the environment and the UK economy,” says Joyce Tait, Innogen co-Director and RHC member.

Regulatory Horizons Council: report on genetic technologies (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Response from Kwasi Karteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1014344/rhc-report-genetic-technologies-government-response.pdf