EU view change on gene editing may impact Scotland

While Scottish government rural affairs minister, Ben Macpherson yesterday re-iterated his administration’s intention to continue a precautionary approach to the growing of gene-edited crops in line with EU rules, signs were emerging that Europe might be set to change its views.

In 2018 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that New Breeding Techniques (NBT) such as gene editing should fall under the rules which applied to transgenic genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which incorporated DNA from a different species.

However France looks set to accept that crops developed using gene-editing techniques – which introduce no new DNA – differ from GMOs and could oppose the ruling which sees strict restrictions placed on the commercial growing of gene-edited crops.

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“NBTs are not GMOs,” the French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie was reported as stating in an interview with the country’s farming press.

“This technology allows much quicker development of a variety that could have emerged naturally at some point, and that is a very good thing,” he said, calling for NBT not to be regulated like GMOs.

And with Europe’s largest agricultural sector set to take a different approach, the review of the ruling which is currently being undertaken by the European Commission could see a change of heart within the trading block.

The UK Government recently announced its own consultation which could see gene edited crops grown commercially – and under the terms of the UK’s internal market regulations this would mean that Scotland would have to accept the marketing, sale and free circulation of gene edited crops and other goods.

However, speaking during portfolio questions at the Scottish Parliament yesterday McPherson said that to move away from the current precautionary approach would risk jeopardising the “clean, green” status which he said helped give Scottish food and drink its high reputation around the world.

“We have long been opposed to the cultivation of GM crops, in line with our commitment to seek alignment with high EU standards when it’s in Scotland’s best interests and it is appropriate to do so,” he said adding that this approach protected the country’s £14.8 billion food and drink sector.

Rachel Hamilton MSP said that use of technologies such as gene editing could lead to new varieties of crops requiring fewer pesticides - which would help meet biodiversity targets and climate change ambitions:

“Is the minister seriously going to disadvantage Scotland’s farmers and the environment if England were to allow the use of gene editing by holding Scotland back based on an outdated EU decision?” she asked.

*Speaking earlier during the session rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing attached the UK Government stating that it had broken promises made to maintain farm support funding in Scotland at pre-Brexit levels.

Claiming that Westminster had been reluctant to discuss the implications of the Bew review, he said that this was part of a £170.1 million shortfall in funding due by 2025:

“The Tories have broken their promise to Scotland - and we can never trust them again,” said Ewing.