Government ignores 85% of public who oppose deregulation
Responding to UK farm ministry DEFRA's announcement that new legislation will be put in place "to cut unnecessary red tape" for research on gene editing in plants, Claire Robinson, editor of GMWatch, said:
"The government is still hell-bent on removing protections for health and the environment to allow the GMO industry free rein in England and this is a first step in that direction. This is in spite of the results of DEFRA's own public consultation, which showed that 85% of respondents oppose deregulation – and that was after DEFRA arbitrarily removed 52% of all responses on the grounds that they were linked to NGO campaigns; virtually all of those responses would have favoured keeping the current regulations.
"DEFRA's press release doesn't give any details about what actual changes will be made to the laws. It's hard to see how research can be made any easier, as field trials with gene-edited and older style transgenic GM crops are already ongoing in England and the process for getting them approved seems to be little more than a rubber-stamping exercise.
"One interesting change is that the government seems to have abandoned language claiming that gene editing produces changes that 'could occur naturally', in favour of the more vague 'mimicking natural processes'. This change comes after many groups, including GMWatch, pointed out that the government had not defined a change that could occur naturally – and even if it had, there was no evidence that the changes produced through gene editing could have occurred naturally. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that gene editing causes genetic mayhem, which the government has not faced up to or addressed.
"The list of gene-edited 'wonder crops' promised in the DEFRA press release is a repeat of the 'jam tomorrow' claims of first-generation GM crops back in the 1990s.
"Some, like GM virus-resistant sugar beet, are highly unlikely to work sustainably in the field because virus resistance is a complex trait that can't be genetically engineered into plants.
"Others, like GM gene-edited low asparagine wheat and powdery mildew-resistant tomatoes, are simply not needed because non-GM solutions to the problems being targeted already exist.
"What is more, the gene-edited wheat poses complex risks that have not been addressed and unintended compositional changes have already been shown to be present in the wheat. So long-term animal feeding trials and allergy testing should be carried out to ensure that the changes have not led to toxicity or allergenicity concerns.
"Yet the Westminster government is doing the opposite to what the emerging science on gene editing is telling them. They should be demanding more independent testing of these products, not trying to roll back the protections already in place."
GMWatch co-editor, Jonathan Matthews said: "Boris Johnson's government think deregulating genetic technologies will steal a march on the European Union and help put the UK - in their own words - 'in a world-leading position'. In other words, they're quite willing to disregard concerns about human health and the environment in order to hop aboard what they're hoping will be a gravy train."