After Brexit, let’s embrace gene editing

EU rules are killing vital innovation in biotech.

Bill Wirtz

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Topics Brexit Politics Science & Tech UK World

Virus-resistant tomato, disease-resistant rice, stem-cell treatment for paralysis, for heart disease, for spinal-chord injury and even for cornea repair — these are just some of the many innovations made possible through gene editing.

Canada has created permissive rules for these technologies, as has Japan, where scientists are working night and day to find therapeutic treatments that root out cancer and the Zika virus.

In Europe, however, the prospects are bleak. Bureaucrats and politicians are stifling the speed with which scientists can make breakthroughs available to consumers and patients. Granted, wealthy elites will always be able to fly to Tokyo or the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to get treatments. But for Brits who cannot afford this, we need laws and regulations that will allow for the research and development of innovative treatments.

Gene editing is effectively banned throughout the EU. The slightest word in favour of innovative technologies such as CRISPR (a prominent genome-editing technology) gets you yelled at by politicians and EU-funded NGOs alike. With Brexit on the horizon, the UK has a unique opportunity to embrace innovation.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel on the continent. At the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin next month, approximately 70 ministers of agriculture from around the world intend to adopt a communiqué about the global direction of agriculture. The hope is that these delegates will recognise the value in technologies like gene editing. In Germany, some green activists like the Youth Greens seem to be waking up to the problem. Several activists have warned that strict regulation makes the application of gene technologies more expensive, meaning only big corporates can afford it.

However, we cannot rely on what happens internationally. Britain has an obligation to its citizens to allow scientists to develop new cures and new foods for the 21st century. Brexit offers a unique opportunity to rethink biotech regulations as we break away from the EU’s anti-science dogma. We cannot let Britain lag behind in global innovation.

Bill Wirtz is a policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. Follow him on Twitter: @wirtzbill.

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