The Chequers ‘common rule book’ will not stop the UK diverging from the EU on gene editing regulation, according to Farming Minister George Eustice.
Mr Eustice made the remarks in response to a question from Farmers Guardian at an All Party Parliamentary Group for Farming meeting at Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this week.
Last month, a group of scientists and industry leaders wrote to Defra Secretary Michael Gove to demand clarity on how the Chequers plan would affect gene editing research.
The letter, signed by the NFU, CLA and TFA, as well as a number of professors, was sent following a ruling by the European Court of Justice which declared gene editing (GE) should be governed by the same regulations as genetic modification (GM).
The signatories were concerned that the common rule book proposed in the Chequers agreement would force the UK to follow the EU’s restrictive laws.
But Mr Eustice said: “We disagree with the judgement the ECJ has come up with. We think gene editing and cisgenesis is largely an extension of conventional breeding techniques, the likes of which we have had for decades.
“I think this would be an early candidate for us to depart from the approach the EU is taking.
“If we are serious about trying to reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides and tackling some of these agronomic challenges, we do need to embrace an accelerated form of genetic breeding.
“In terms of the common rule book, it will not apply to that. It is already the case that GM foods are widely sold in the EU, particularly in animal feed, where they predominate, even though the EU does not allow the cultivation of crops.
“As a decision, it is very much a national one, not affected by the common rule book.”