The European Union has some of the highest standards for organic foods and has largely rejected gene editing and genetic modified foods. Member countries only have the option to further tighten those rules, or simply follow regulations set by the Union. But in the UK, legislators now have the scope to make changes to regulations in a new Brexit reality.
The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has opened consultation on gene technology regulation. Under the EU regime, all organisms that has been produced by gene editing or other genetic technologies are regulated as genetically modified organisms even if they could have been produced by traditional breeding methods. While the UK has officially left the European Union, the country is still currently bound by EU regulations on genetically engineered crops and foods.
Defra has made its view clear upon announcing its consultation. The authority does not want to regulate products made with gene editing or other technologies as GMO if they could be produced with traditional methods. The 10-week long consultation calls for “all views to be shared” which can be used to inform policy development, i.e., change the definition of GMOs and exclude any products created by using gene editing. The UK Government wants to change legislation, as it believes gene edited plants and animals will increase yields, reduce pesticide use and help fight climate change.
However, this month a letter signed by a diverse group of leaders from food, farming, student activism, religion, business, democratic reform, and academia has implored British supermarkets not to stock products produced using gene edited crops and animals. The letter claims recent surveys show that a majority in the UK are still unconvinced about the benefits of genetically engineered foods 20 years’ experience of genetically engineered crops has shown the technology has failed to address any issues and, in some cases, such as pesticide use, it has made things worse.
The letter was organised by Beyond GM and Slow Food in the UK and asks supermarkets to listen to customers and demonstrate leadership by opposing the deregulation of genome edited crops and livestock in the UK.
It seems you can take the country out of the bloc, but attitudes to food and technology may be even harder to budge than it was to negotiate that withdrawal agreement!