UK Government GM Bill Threat to Scottish Farming

“whilst this legislative change will only take effect in England, the mutual recognition element of the United Kingdom Internal Market (UKIM) Act means that products entering the market in England would also be marketable in both Scotland and Wales.” 

UK Government’s Gene Editing Bill

Scotland’s farmers produce internationally acclaimed finest quality produce. As part of the EU there were regulations that assured that those high standards were maintained. The stamp of assurance meant also that those products sold for a higher price.

Responsibility over farming is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. There are no GM crops grown in Scotland.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are officially defined in the EU legislation as ‘organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or recombination.’

Agriculture and the environment

The Tory UK Government has introduced The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. It aims to ” enable the development and marketing of precision bred plants and animals which will drive economic growth and attract investment into agri-food research and innovation in the UK.”

A Bill to make provision about the release and marketing of, and risk assessments relating to, precision bred plants and animals, and the marketing of food and feed produced from such plants and animals; and for connected purposes.

The Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee supports the Bill. Lesley Torrance, said:

“These crops are urgently needed to address future food security which is threatened by climate change and pests, and to help reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture whilst maintaining crop yields.

“The James Hutton Institute uses innovative precision breeding technologies which have the potential to speed the development of new crop varieties in a more reliable way.

“We welcome both the focus of the Bill which is on the assessment of the properties of the new crop and not the process used to develop it; and the transparency of this information which will be held on a public register.”

The James Hutton Institute is one of the Scottish Government’s main research providers in environmental, crop and food science.

The Scottish Government was only given sight of the draft legislation on the afternoon it was introduced into the UK Parliament.

In a letter to the UK Government from Mairi McAllan MSP, Minister for Environment and Land Reform in the Scottish Government states:

“The use of genetic technologies is a complex and emotive area, and it is abundantly clear that there are issues that need to be addressed if their use in our food system is to have the confidence of the public in Scotland and across the UK as a whole. As your Impact Assessment to the Bill acknowledges, the market for precision-bred products “ultimately depends on prevailing consumer attitudes to products which contain genetically engineered material”, and “the public’s acceptance of GE and similar products remains an area of uncertainty.” Your own consultation last year rejected the changes to the regulation of GM that you are now pursuing.”

Mairi McAllan is ‘extremely concerned’ that the Bill “will not require labelling of precision-bred products”

Scotland’s extensive export trade with the EU will be affected by the introduction of GM meat and crops. The EU has a legal framework where GM products can be sold in the largest free trade market in the world. It states that there must be “clear labelling of GMOs placed on the market in order to enable consumers as well as professionals (e.g. farmers, and food feed chain operators) to make an informed choice” and that “the traceability of GMOs placed on the market” must be ensured.

The UK’ Government’s Bill which will allow GM engineering of what we eat is for England but it affects all Scotland and Wales as these products will be sold in our shops where they will be cheaper than our Scottish GM Free quality products. England’s GM products will not be permitted to be sold in Northern Ireland as it is still protected by EU regulations.

The UK Government’s Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said:

“Outside the EU we are free to follow the science.  These precision technologies allow us to speed up the breeding of plants that have natural resistance to diseases and better use of soil nutrients so we can have higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilisers.

“The UK has some incredible academic centres of excellence and they are poised to lead the way.”

Fiona Grahame

Image credit: Bell

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