Differences on gene editing could disrupt UK farming trade

Precision breeding techniques such as gene editing could protect crops and animals from pests and disease, help deliver net zero carbon emissions and allow farmers to produce more home-grown food.

Martin Kennedy SNFU

That was the supportive message from farming organisations in response to the current consultation being conducted by Defra in England.

However, both the Scottish and English NFUs expressed concerns over the possible severe consequences should different approaches to the new technologies be adopted in different parts of the UK.

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Stating that new technology should be used when safety for both people and the natural environment had been established, NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said that precision breeding technologies such as gene editing, which did not introduce foreign DNA into an organism - and which could have been the product of conventional breeding or natural mutation - should not be regulated under the same system as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO).

However, a ruling by the European Court of Justice in 2018 had decreed that the same strict regulation should apply to both technologies, and the cultivation of GE crops has since been stymied across Europe.

The UK government announced a review would be conducted after the Brexit transition period ended, with signs that the country could join other nations in adopting the Cartagena protocol on biosafety, which prefers more flexible control and monitoring systems.

But while consultation on the approach was launched south of the border, the Scottish government remained opposed to changes to the existing rules until the results of a review being carried out by the EU are known.

And fears were yesterday voiced that the possibility of differing regulatory processes adopted by the four UK administrations could also cause issues for trade within Britain – due to the UK Internal Market Act 2020 which stipulates that if one administration deems a process safe, the sale of such goods must be allowed across the whole of GB.

Expressing that fear yesterday, Kennedy warned that it was also vital that any regulatory divergence did not hamper trade with Europe.

“It is vital that the UK is still able to trade with the EU and, more importantly for Scottish agricultural interests, the integrity of the UK internal market remains intact should England take a different approach to regulating new precision breeding techniques such as GE.”

Kennedy argued that authorisation to use plants or animals created by genetic technologies of any kind, should be based on scientific advice on the safety for people, animals and the environment, rather than the technology.

“Plants or animals bred using GE techniques do not pose any greater threat to the environment or human and animal health than those created using conventional techniques.

“Farmers have to take account of changing technology as in every other industry. Without access to the best science our ability to meet the challenges facing the agricultural sector are severely damaged, as is our competitiveness,” he said.

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