A public consultation into post-Brexit regulation of precision breeding techniques such as gene editing (GE), will take place this autumn Government has announced.
Announcing the consultation during a Committee Stage debate on the Agriculture Bill, Defra minister Lord Gardiner said there was a ‘very strong’ case for taking GE techniques out of the scope of GM regulation.
He said: “In 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled very clearly that these [GE] products must be treated in the same way as GMOs, even if the changes to their genetic material could have been produced by traditional methods, such as crossing varieties of the same species and selecting only the improved individuals.
"The UK Government intervened in the case to argue for a more scientific outcome. Our position was, and is still, that if the products of GE could have been produced naturally or by using traditional breeding methods, they should not be regulated as GMOs.”
He branded current rules ‘unscientific’ and said a solution is needed soon if the UK is to reap the economic and environmental benefits these technologies have to offer, including more resilient crop varieties, reduced use of synthetic pesticides and more disease-resistant animals.
He said it would also bring rules into line with ‘most other countries’ with the exception of the EU-27.
However, Jyoti Fernandes, policy coordinator at agroecological farming organisation, the Land Workers Alliance says the introduction of such technology in the UK could jeopardise markets for organic producers.
She said: “GM crops pose a risk to organic farming because of contamination through cross-pollination. The amendment that was put forward means we could step away from EU regulation, but most opportunities available for organic farmers are in the EU. If growers cannot prove they are achieving EU regulations for their organic products, then they would be losing the chance to export crops. To get out of line with EU regulations is a problem because we have a closer relationship to them than anywhere else.”
Ms Fernandes added that GE should still require the same oversight and regulation as GM technologies.
“Our sense is that it is still GM because it is changing the gene sequence. They are moving things around, which is not something that occurs naturally.”