18 January 2021 — GMWatch
UK Gene editing consultation updates
Beyond GM and GM Freeze will be sending out information very soon on how members of the public can best respond to the UK government’s public consultation on gene editing. GMWatch has been actively contributing to this information.
Below are two short pieces that offer useful overviews of the situation.
- Summary of new Joanna Blythman article: “No one wants genetically modified food – but Westminster wants to foist it upon Scotland anyway”
- Don’t let the definition of “genetically modified” be altered – letter to the editor by Colin Holden
1. Summary of new Joanna Blythman article: “No one wants genetically modified food – but Westminster wants to foist it upon Scotland anyway”
The food writer Joanna Blythman has published an article in the Herald, called “No one wants genetically modified food – but Westminster wants to foist it upon Scotland anyway”.
The article is paywalled but we provide the following summary for our readers.
It has been obvious for over two decades that there is no public appetite in the UK or Europe for GM food. Last year Food Standards Scotland surveyed citizens and found that only one in ten would be likely to buy GM food even if it was significantly cheaper.
But the pro-GM lobby never gives up. Now the UK Government wants to change the law in England so that crops and animals created by risky new genetic engineering techniques known as genome or gene editing can be used in agriculture.
Ben Macpherson, Scotland’s Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, has emphasised that Scotland will keep its GM free crop status, in line with its commitment to stay aligned to EU regulations and standards.
But the recently enacted Internal Market Act means that Scotland is now powerless to bar goods from England, and so would effectively be forced to sell any gene-edited crops authorised there.
Encouragingly, this move towards legalising this perilous and unneeded technology has prompted a backlash from different sectors.
An editorial in The Grocer noted the likely consequences: “It seems already apparent the UK’s deregulation of gene editing will not necessarily benefit farmers and the UK’s domestic food production. If it causes significant damage to EU trade, then many could go out of business.”
The Grocer also warns that the EU could see UK deregulation of gene editing as a weakening of existing environmental standards and impose 40% tariffs on UK foods heading to Europe.
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) says gene editing will be “used to support an antiquated farming system: the factory farming of animals”. CIWF says it will drive farm animals to faster growth and higher yields, and exacerbate animal suffering.
The RSPCA points out that this proposed change in law would lead to food from genetically altered animals being offered for sale on supermarket shelves or in restaurants, “an unwanted and unacceptable development even if the food were labelled”. It says, “Gene editing is an unproven technology which does not take into account animal welfare, ethical or public concerns. It involves procedures that cause pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm and is an inefficient process, using large numbers of animals to produce a single individual with the desired result”.
Also, gene editing has nothing to offer the environment, with the first commercialised gene-edited crop (Cibus’s SU Canola) being engineered to survive being sprayed with pesticide.
UK farm ministry DEFRA is pushing the high-tech, quick-fix GM agenda favoured by industrial farming corporations. Let’s tell them where to stick it.
2. Don’t let the definition of “genetically modified” be altered
Letters to the Editor, The National, 14 Jan 2021
The recent article “Scotland may be ‘forced’ to accept modified foods sale” (January 8) has flagged up a very important issue, so I was surprised at the lack of reaction from readers. While the detail was slightly inaccurate, the important gist is that the UK Government is attempting to remove the few existing controls from a new generation of genetically modified (GM) products, but at least allowing the public an opinion.
At the present time in Britain GM products are regulated, and (mostly) labelled – by law – allowing consumers to decide whether to accept the potential side-effects on health and environment.
The UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is now proposing to redefine the term GM to exclude the latest technique “gene editing” – which, as it sounds, means chopping and changing, in a lab, the blueprint of life itself. To quote the Defra introduction directly: “Depending on the results of part 1 (of the public consultation), Defra may change the legislation to amend the definition of a GMO as it applies in England … This would mean that this legislation does not apply to organisms produced by gene editing and other genetic technologies if they could have been developed using traditional breeding methods.”
The last part of this quote stretches credibility to the point where the elastic breaks. The GM industry has been working for years now at the European level to shrug off regulatory control, so their latest technique is presented as radically different from what went before. It is not – in fact as time goes on more and more unwanted “edits” are being discovered by independent scientists, just as happened with the earlier GM methods.
The European Court of Justice has already ruled that gene editing is of course a type of GM – but we know what Boris and co think of European opinion, and now’s their chance.
The final slap in the face to Scots is that this consultation has been ambiguously presented as applicable only to the English public. This is clearly not the case, as the consultation questions include “Scotland” in the list of responders’ countries. And as The National article made clear: “The UK Internal Market Act would force Scotland to accept the marketing, sale and free circulation of products in Scotland, which do not meet the standards set out in the Scottish regulations.”
I would recommend concerned readers check the facts at gmwatch.org then submit their own views to the consultation before the deadline of March 17.