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Precision breeding

What precision breeding is and its potential applications.

Last updated: 13 September 2022

What is precision breeding?

Precision breeding (PB) describes a range of genetic techniques that can alter the DNA of plants and animals in a more precise way than traditional breeding techniques.  Precision breeding results in genetic alterations that could have occurred through traditional breeding methods or natural processes, but can be achieved more efficiently. These genetic techniques are often referred to as new breeding techniques and include genome editing (also called gene editing). 

Gene editing works by using specialised enzymes, which are directed to cut DNA at specific points along the DNA sequence. At these points, DNA can be added, removed, or replaced in a precise manner. Precision bred organisms only contain gene edits that could have occurred through traditional breeding methods. This is different from genetic modification approaches where genes derived from unrelated species are inserted into an organism to confer new characteristics such as disease resistance.

Precision breeding can have many practical applications for food production through the improvement of traits in crops and livestock. Crops can be made with greater resistance to environmental stressors such as drought or disease resistance, or by selectively enhancing their flavour and nutritional content. 

 

Products developed from precision breeding in the UK

Currently there are no crops or animals resulting from precision breeding technology that have been authorised for sale as food or animal feed in the UK, although the use of gene editing technologies has produced some products that are available elsewhere in the world.

The government is proposing new legislation for precision bred plants and animals used in England. The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill seeks to remove plants and animals produced through precision breeding technologies from the regulatory requirements applicable to the environmental release and marketing of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in England.

Where genetic technologies have introduced genetic changes into  organisms that could not have occurred by traditional breeding techniques, including the insertion of genes from unrelated species, these organisms will continue to be regulated as GMOs.
The Bill proposed by the government will mean a change to the rules and requirements for precision bred products to be placed on the market in England.

As a result, we’re developing a new evidence-based pre-marketing authorisation process for feed and food products developed using these technologies that is proportionate to the risk posed and will assess products on a case-by-case basis.  Find out more about our work to develop this process

This process will ensure all the associated food safety risks are assessed, managed and communicated to Ministers to inform their decision on whether or not a product is allowed to be marketed. 

We will consult experts, carry out risk assessments, review the science and evidence and consider wider impacts. This robust process will give consumers confidence and trust in the food they eat.

Under the proposed process, precision bred foods will only be permitted if they are judged not to:

  • present a risk to health
  • mislead consumers
  • disadvantage the consumer nutritionally

We are committed to maintaining the UK’s high standards of food and feed safety, and we believe we can achieve this while also supporting innovation and the benefits these emerging technologies bring.

FSA Explains

How gene editing differs from genetic modification

Gene editing (or genome editing) comprises a spectrum of tools and techniques, which includes CRISPR technology, which can be used to alter an organism’s DNA in a precise and targeted way. Gene editing can modify specific points within the organism’s own DNA, leaving nothing behind but the altered DNA sequence. This differs from traditional genetic modification (GM) where DNA from an unrelated species is introduced into the genome of an organism, often in a non-targeted way. 

Precision breeding only applies where gene editing technologies have made genetic alterations that could have occurred through traditional breeding methods or as a result of natural processes.