Genetically modified food takes England one step further as laws loosen | DG

The prospect of growing and selling genetically modified food in the UK has drawn closer after changes to agricultural regulations that will allow field trials of genetically modified crops in England.

Companies or research organizations wishing to conduct field trials will still need to notify the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the government said on Wednesday, but existing costs and red tape will be removed. , so that further testing is likely to take place.

The immediate change is minimal and only affects England, but the government says it will be followed by plans for new primary legislation that will allow much greater use of gene editing in crops in the UK , and a redefinition of the law on genetic modification.

This could pave the way for the sale of genetically modified crops grown in field trials, and other stages such as genetic modification in animals, and potentially the production and sale of genetically modified organisms in the UK. United.

George Eustice, Secretary of the Environment, said: “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources provided by nature. It’s a tool that could help us tackle some of the biggest challenges we face – around food security, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Ministers want to use Brexit to allow gene editing, a form of genetic modification that is severely restricted in the EU, for use in the UK, despite a public consultation which found that 87% of those who responded considered the crops modified by genes as a higher risk than traditional methods of plant breeding.

Gene editing involves the use and modification of genes already present in an organism, unlike other forms of genetic modification, which can use genes imported from other plants or animals. Gene editing can be used to mimic the effects of traditional plant breeding, but it is accelerated because it is done in the laboratory instead of requiring years of repeated selective breeding.

Proponents say gene editing could be used safely to grow crops with increased yields or additional nutritional benefits, or which are resistant to pests and diseases and withstand drought, high temperatures or d other effects of climate degradation.

Scientists have welcomed the changes. Angela Karp, Director and CEO of Rothamsted Research, which had a field trial approved for genetically modified wheat before the changes, said: “Genetic modification gives us a powerful new tool to speed up variety generation. plants that can potentially be more nutritious, more resistant to climate change and cultivated with a reduced environmental impact.

“We look forward to leveraging our gene editing science to help deliver the crops farmers will need to meet Cop26 emissions targets and beyond. We will now be able to intensify our studies at the field level and accelerate the creation of new varieties capable of sustaining our agriculture. “

An Earth First anti-GMO protester demonstrating in July 2000 at the site of Scotland’s only approved test site for crops near Daviot, Aberdeenshire. England is considering relaxing its rules on GM crops. Photograph: Ben Curtis / PA

Guy Poppy, professor of ecology at the University of Southampton, also welcomed this development, but said: “While I understand why Defra is offering a proportionate step-by-step process, I am concerned that the journey along this route is slow, complex and fraught with continuous claims and counterclaims.

However, activists said the government was ignoring public concerns on the issue. Liz O’Neill, director of the GM Freeze Coordination Group, said: “Genetic engineering, whatever you call it, needs to be properly regulated. The government wants to trade the safety net of appropriate public protections for a high-tech system that is free for all, but our food, our farms and the natural environment deserve better.

She added: “This announcement is described as a response to Defra’s consultation on the regulation of genetic technologies. However, no details were released. [at the time of writing] on what George Eustice actually learned from exercise. The consultation submissions GM Freeze saw raised a wide range of concerns about Defra’s proposals for dismantling GM’s guarantees, but the announcement suggests the minister is not listening.

Joanna Lewis, director of policy and strategy at the Soil Association, said gene editing was the wrong approach and the government should instead focus on helping farmers become more sustainable.

“What would help is a reversal of… lack of investment in agro-ecological, nature-friendly methods and farmer-led technology,” she said. “We should invest in solutions that address the root causes of diseases and pests first, including lack of crop diversity, decline of beneficial insects and animal overpopulation. We must increase soil carbon, wildlife and animal welfare on farms to resolve climatic and natural crises, and protect human health. “

Gideon Henderson, chief scientific adviser to Defra, said the government is closely examining the implications of any changes to UK GM organisms law for future trade deals. The EU and some other countries impose heavy restrictions.

Even if GM organisms and related products were omitted from trade agreements, there could be concerns that other agricultural products would be affected – in crops, by potential cross-contamination and in the case of meat from livestock consuming GM crops. .

About Alma Ackerman

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