EU rules which ban the cultivation of GM food are likely to be stripped away in the UK after Brexit, says Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West and a member of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee in the European Parliament.
Faced with EU regulations banning the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for human consumption and a hostile public reluctant to eat genetically engineered food, the biotech giants have come up with a cunning plan: simply redefine what it is to be a GMO.
Biotechnology companies have been arguing that ‘new breeding techniques’ (NBTs) should be excluded from EU GMO regulations.
This would mean these gene-editing techniques, which allow the modification of plants or animals by intervening directly into the genome, would be exempt from the risk assessment, labelling and monitoring that currently applies to GMO foods.
But the EU Court of Justice has ruled today that NBTs should be subject to the same strict regulations as other GMOs, and whilst there is still some wiggle-room to develop these techniques, it will be a lot harder for industry to navigate legally.
The Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament and many environmental NGOs have been calling for restrictions on NBTs for years, highlighting that the effects of developing and cultivating gene-edited crops or other organisms are little known, and could have extremely damaging effects.
Whilst this is a victory for the EU, Brexit could mean a very different outcome for the UK, which is already on a slippery slope towards authorising GMOs.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove has expressed his enthusiasm for allowing gene-editing post-Brexit, and in May this year, the UK planted its first trial gene-edited crop.
Given that the US Government has been lobbying hard on these new GM techniques, we can also expect any post-Brexit trade deal between the US and UK to involve an attempt to try and force us to swallow these foods.
For ‘Global Britain’ read corporate rule, and these GMOs would give large multinationals like Monsanto et al even more power over our food and farming system.
Greens believe that real innovation is not about biotechnologies but about making fundamental shifts to our food and farming methods.
These should include enhancing and spreading low input agriculture; participative breeding of locally adapted varieties; extensive farming that respects animal welfare; organic farming and agro-ecology.
We also need policies that support and reward innovative farmers who are spearheading this shift.
Molly can be found tweeting at @MollyMEP