‘Not precise, not breeding’ – scientists’ warning on gene-editing Bill as it returns to Parliament 

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A group of 50 prominent international scientists and policy makers have published a joint statement warning that the term ‘precision breeding’ applied to gene editing is “misleading and inaccurate”. 

The intervention comes days before the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill returns to Parliament after the summer recess. 

The scientists say that the Bill is an attempt by the UK Government to “weaken or remove regulatory controls around gene editing”. Other critics of the legislation, including prominent figures in the organic sector, have warned that the Bill is being rushed through Parliament to ensure minimum scrutiny. However, that has not prevented the UK Government’s own regulation watchdog from concluding that the Bill is “not fit for purpose”. 

The letter argues that term precision breeding is “technically and scientifically inaccurate and therefore misleads Parliament, regulators, and the public”. This, it bluntly asserts, is because “gene editing is not precise, and not breeding”. 

The letter concludes: “In conclusion, the term ‘precision breeding’ should be deleted from the title of the UK government’s bill and replaced with terminology that is accurate and purely descriptive, to form a title such as “Genetic Modification Technologies (Food, Feed and Agriculture) Bill. 

“Beyond the context of this particular bill, governments and regulators worldwide should avoid using marketing terms such as “precision breeding” to describe gene editing and instead use scientifically and technically accurate terms with broadly agreed definitions, such as gene or genome editing, genetic modification, and genetic engineering.”

Commenting on the development, Pat Thomas, director of the UK’s Beyond GM, which has also been calling for the term to be removed, said: “If the UK was truly serious about so-called science-based regulation, then the term ‘precision breeding’ would never have been allowed in the title or text of this bill. It isn’t found in regulation anywhere else in the world and its inclusion is intended to mislead and makes the UK government look like a bunch of hucksters and scammers”.

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