A bill that would relax gene-editing regulations in the food sector should not “impose products on Scotland”, a minister has said.
The Gene Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill was introduced earlier this month in Westminster and would create a separate regulatory category for “precision bred” organisms, meaning that a plant’s traits or of an animal can be changed much faster than traditional selective breeding.
The UK government defines the type of genetic modification it will legalize as reflecting natural processes. However, the bill contains multiple caveats that undermine this definition, meaning that a wide range of genetic modification tools and practices will be legalized.
After an EU ruling in 2018, gene editing is regulated in the same strict way as genetically modified organisms, a situation the UK government is set to change in England.
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In a letter to Environment Secretary George Eustice and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, Scottish Government Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said Scotland would not make the same changes as England if the project law was passed.
McAllan also questioned the engagement between the UK and Scottish governments ahead of the bill’s presentation, and claimed that changes to regulations in England would impact the rest of the devolved administrations.
Under the Home Market Act 2020, items that meet regulatory standards in one part of the country must be allowed to be sold elsewhere in the UK.
Critics of the law, including the Scottish Government and the SNP group in Westminster, described it as a ‘power grab’ before it was passed.
An impact assessment published alongside the new bill said: “While this legislative change will only come into force in England, the mutual recognition element of the UK’s Internal Market Act (UKIM ) means that products entering the market in England would also be marketable in both Scotland and Wales.
“Thus there would be no tangible barriers to precision bodies entering the market across Britain.”
McAllan wrote: “Such a result is unacceptable.
“The Scottish Government remains totally opposed to the imposition of the Internal Market Act and will not accept any constraints on the exercise of its delegated powers to set standards in devolved policy areas.”
McAllan urged ministers to ensure Scotland is not affected by the legislation, saying: “If the UK Government is determined to push forward with this legislation, it must take steps to ensure that its revisions to the definition of a GMO (genetically modified organism) does not impose on Scotland products which do not meet the standards here without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.
She also raised concerns about the bill’s impact on Scottish food exports to the EU.
“As your impact assessment for the Genetic Technologies (Precision Breeding) Bill acknowledges, removing GM products from England’s GMO regulatory regime would mean a departure from the EU’s approach. and as such could have implications for compliance costs and future trade,” she wrote.
“The impact assessment also raises the prospect that new trade barriers could take the form of controls and certification requirements on UK food exports entering the EU single market.
“It says this would affect not only products exported to the EU that contain precision plant material, but also those in the same product categories that do not.”