The UK government has launched a consultation on the use of gene editing to modify food crops and livestock now that it has left the EU, BBC News reported on 8 January.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the technology could be used to develop crops that were more resistant to disease and extreme weather and that the UK no longer had to "slavishly follow" European law, which was "notoriously restrictive and politicised".

Gene editing (GE) techniques essentially edit a plant or animal’s existing genome, compared with genetic modification (GM), where genetic material is inserted from one type of organism to another.

In 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that GE crops should be subject to the same stringent rules as conventional GM organisms (GMOs).

Eustice said GE raised far fewer ethical or biological questions as organisms created by the process could have been created naturally and so "respected the laws of nature".

BBC News said many scientists welcomed the public consultation, which would run until 17 March.

Denis Murphy, professor of biotechnology at the University of South Wales, said the move was broadly supported by UK farmers and crop scientists.

"Genome editing is already used in medicine and has immense potential for tackling major agricultural challenges related to food security, climate change and sustainability."

Prof Ian Crute, director of Rothamsted Research, added that genetic improvement of crops and livestock was vitally important to counter threats posed to productive agriculture by climate change and the emergence of new pests and diseases.

However, some scientists sounded warnings.

Dr Adrian Ely, reader in technology and sustainability at the University of Sussex, said that allowing gene editing in the UK "would require us to open up indiscriminately to GE food imports from around the world".

GeneWatch UK director Dr Helen Wallace also said that removing some new GM technologies from regulation would mean they would not be traced or labelled or assessed if they were safe.