The plan to deregulate gene editing for crops and animals has been dealt a blow, following an Impact Assessment from the Regulatory Policy Committee.
A report from the group has labelled the Government’s justification for the Genetic Technologies (Precision Breeding) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament in May, as “not fit for purpose”. It added that the Government’s analysis of the impact of deregulation was “weak”.
The Government has previously positioned gene editing as a means of boosting food security within the UK. By tweaking genes within certain plants (and eventually animals too) the hope is to produce more resilient crops, which require fewer pesticides and could even offer more nutritional benefits than usual.
According to the Regulatory Policy Committee report however, the Government has not adequately considered and discussed the “full range of potential impacts arising from the creation of a new category” of genetically modified organisms.
The issue of categorisation and labelling has been one that detractors of the bill have been vocal about already. Because the Genetic Technologies (Precision Breeding) Bill would only be relevant to England, there is concern as to how goods could travel between the different countries within the UK where this legislation does not apply.
Additionally, just how consumers would be able to make informed decisions when shopping is also unclear.
The Government’s own Impact Assessment requires strengthening, says the Regulatory Policy Committee, particularly by including “a detailed assessment of the competition, innovation, consumer and environmental impacts” of gene editing.
It also notes that “much of the evidence regarding risk discussed in the IA, is drawn from interested parties, or based on scientific trials, that do not replicate real-world conditions (including farmers’ behaviour). Such a narrative could, in turn, impede research, development and evaluation of an important new technology.”
Public backing for the Bill has been low since its introduction – Defra’s own research into the subject shows overwhelming public support for regulation within gene editing.
Moreover, many organisations have come out against the bill. Earlier this month, some 32 groups – ranging from the RSPCA, Soil Association, and Land Workers Alliance to campaign groups like GM Freeze and Beyond GM – issued a joint statement on the Bill.
The statement read: “This bill represents a significant change in the law and has huge implications for farming, food, animal welfare, the environment, the UK’s internal market and its trading relationships with key global markets. It is clear that, in its haste to deregulate, the Government has not adequately considered these implications.
“If it passes in its current form, no-one—including farmers, businesses and citizens—will be able to exercise the right to choose whether or not to use, purchase or consume the products of these technologies.
“Denying the right to choose undermines trust in the food system and in innovation and technology. We are concerned that too few MPs have grasped the full implications of the bill and that, as a result, it could pass into law without the full debate and major revisions it requires. We urge our parliamentarians to take steps to prevent this from happening.”