The Soil Association has slammed a claim by Farming Minister George Eustice that gene-editing (GE) technology must be embraced to reduce reliance on pesticides.
Mr Eustice made the remarks in response to a question from Farmers Guardian at the Conservative Party conference last week.
He said the ‘common rule book’ proposed in the Chequers agreement would not force the UK to follow a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling which declared GE should be governed by the same regulations as genetic modification (GM).
“We disagree with the judgement,” he added.
“We think gene editing and cisgenesis is largely an extension of conventional breeding techniques.
“If we are serious about trying to reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides, we do need to embrace an accelerated form of genetic breeding.”
But the Soil Association (SA) has ‘absolutely rejected’ this suggestion.
Emma Hockridge, head of policy, farming and land use at the SA, said: “Scientific research has long shown these new gene-editing technologies give rise to similar uncertainties and risks as GM always has, and we would urge the Government to ensure the UK stays aligned with this ruling based on scientific evidence, including the study published by leading journal Nature which shows the technique ‘causes many profound mutations and DNA damage’.
“We have always been clear these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs and therefore are banned in organic farming and food.
“The outcome of gene-editing is to manipulate and alter the genome in a laboratory to make a new organism.
“This is the very definition of genetic engineering, and gene-editing risks introducing similar uncertainties and unintended consequences as genetic modification of DNA.”
The Soil Association is encouraging the cultivation of open pollination seeds as an alternative to GE technology.
The group claims this will help farmers adapt to a changing climate by breeding drought and pest tolerant plants at a ‘lower cost, faster and more effectively’.