The UK government has introduced a bill to pave the way for genetically edited plants and animals to be grown and raised for food in England, The BBC reported.

Initially applicable only to plants, the proposed new legislation would relax regulations for gene-edited products, but not genetically modified (GM) products, the 25 May report said.

The technology was currently not used in England due to rules set by the European Union (EU), the BBC wrote, but Brexit had given the UK the ability to set its own rules.

Gene editing involved switching genes on and off in an organism by snipping out a small piece of DNA and can lead to the production of varieties that could also be produced through traditional cross-breeding methods, but much more quickly.

Welcomed by plant scientists, the proposed legislation was criticised by some environmental campaigners and organic farming bodies, the report said.

The new regulations would take away much needed scrutiny, according to Liz O'Neill, director of non-profit campaign organisation GM Freeze.

“What has been removed is the need for an independent risk assessment and the need for transparency,” she said.

However, the move was welcomed by the National Farmers Union vice president David Exwood.

“This science-based legislative change has the potential to offer a number of benefits to UK food production and to the environment and will provide farmers and growers with another tool in the toolbox as we look to overcome the challenges of feeding an ever-growing population while tackling the climate crisis,” he said.

A number of biotech and agricultural researchers had lobbied for the government to go further and legislate for the commercial use of GM crops, but ministers had decided to adopt a more cautious approach, the BBC wrote.

The GM process involves adding genes, sometimes from a different species.

Scientific studies had shown both technologies to be safe and GM crops had been grown outside of the EU for 25 years, the report said.

The UK government believes that gene editing will lead to crops that are resistant to pests and diseases and more resilient to the impact of climate change, according to the report, leading to increased productivity and food security.