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Agriculture Bill set to de-regulate genetic engineering in food and farming

Beyond GM, GM Freeze and GM Watch call on citizens to object to a proposed amendment to the UK Agriculture Bill to deregulate gene editing.

Cropped field, photo credit: Vicki Hird

Cropped field, photo credit: Vicki Hird

The amendment to the UK Agriculture Bill has been proposed by Lord Cameron and others.

As the coalition of GM-focused NGOs states: "Our objections are focused on the political process of the amendment, its lack of clarity and transparency and the fact that it is simply the wrong amendment, in the wrong bill, at the wrong time."

The briefing provides context to this position but, in brief, the principal objections are:

  • Genetic engineering in food and farming is an issue of public concern in the UK and there is strong citizen support for GM regulation that demands a transparent process rather than one which is being pushed through quietly by unelected Peers;
  • Crucially it would result in a substantial alteration of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA) without public and parliamentary scrutiny. Creating a precedent of altering the EPA by giving the Secretary of State wide-ranging powers through another (non-Environmental) Act is risky and wrong;
  • The amendment purports to cover only “agricultural research” – however it is not possible to restrict the kind of deregulatory changes proposed to the products of agricultural research only. If adopted all uses of genome editing will be deregulated, including commercialised seeds and food products;
  • The explanatory statement proposes to allow the deregulation of “new precision breeding techniques”. This term has no formal scientific or legal definition, nor is it defined in the amendment. In lobbying language it is broadly applied to any form of genome editing;
  • The term ‘genome editing’ represents a suite of technologies with a range of potential applications, some of which – for example gene drives or the use of gene-edited plant and animal species to further conservation aims – pose significant risks to the farmed and natural environment. To make such broad alterations in the structure of UK environmental protection is, at best, ill-considered and cavalier and, at worst, destructive and dangerous;
  • The amendment does not consider how deregulation of technologies might impact on other forms of agricultural production and innovation (such as organic), or what their impact might be on animal welfare, market transparency and consumer concerns;
  • Since the amendment applies only to England it conflicts with and threatens the competencies of the devolved nations, which have all shown support for strict regulation of GMOs;
  • Genome editing is being hailed as a “game changing” technology. Any future role for such a powerful technology should be subject to a full, open and nuanced public and parliamentary debate where potential benefits and risks can be carefully examined.

Beyond GM, GM Freeze and GM Watch are asking that citizens write to both Defra Secretary George Eustice MP and Lord Gardiner of Kimble (who are tasked with seeing the Agriculture Bill through to completion) and urge them to reject an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that plans to de-regulate a range of gene-editing techniques by changing the definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO). Detailed information includes:

  • An action briefing that lays out key concerns about the process of gene editing and the impacts of the proposed amendment on our food system.
  • A political briefing which focuses the undemocratic nature of the amendment and concerns about transparency and the undermining of Environmental Protection Act.

For more information on the proposal to deregulate gene-edited organisms in the UK contact:

Published Wednesday 1 July 2020

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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