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Benefits for the well placed few: Gene editing Bill ‘flies in the face of public opinion’

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Organic groups are warning that a new UK Government Bill on gene editing technologies introduced in the House of Commons today fails to protect consumer choice and ignores public opinion on the subject. 

The new legislation – the Genetic Technology Bill – aims to permit genetic modification in UK food production by employing CRISPR-based tools, also known as gene editing.

Supermarkets – a coalition of the unwilling?
The warning comes as New Scientist magazine reports that none of the major UK major supermarkets are willing to confirm they will sell gene-edited foods. 

Commenting on today’s developments, Roger Kerr, chief executive of UK organic certification body, OF&G, said: “The rushing through of this Bill, without rigorous regulation is an alarming development, especially at this time. 

“It fails to protect consumer choice and neglects to consider the potential for long term damage to the environment and the rural economy. It also flies in the face of public opinion that in 2021 revealed that the public was 80% against deregulating the use of experimental GM techniques.

“The Secretary of State has said that this government intends to ‘follow the science’. Yet the implications to biodiversity loss with the unregulated introduction of this technology into our natural ecosystems appears to be of little concern.” 

“We are seeing a Government heavily investing in supporting systems that secure Intellectual Property of food products of a few well-placed companies, rather than focusing on feeding the people they are elected to protecT”

Roger Kerr

OF&G also questions the claims of economic growth that new GMOs are intended to drive, highlighting that the Intellectual Property Rights of patented crops will, in all likelihood, boost profits for the favoured few, with little or no benefit to farmers. “… We are seeing a Government heavily investing in supporting systems that secure Intellectual Property of food products of a few well-placed companies, rather than focusing on feeding the people they are elected to protect,” Kerr added. 

The Soil Association said: “To prioritise a genetic engineering de-regulation Bill over the Food Bill called for by the National Food Strategy, smacks of a Government casting about for silver bullets to avoid dealing head-on with the transformation needed in our food and farming system for true security and resilience. As highlighted by the National Food Strategy and a new report by Chatham House published yesterday, agroecological farming and a shift to healthy and sustainable diets is the most evidence-based solution for climate, nature and health. The government’s response to that recommendation is long overdue. 

Benefits for the few
“We are deeply disappointed to see the Government prioritising unpopular technologies rather than focusing on the real issues – unhealthy diets, a lack of crop diversity, farm animal overcrowding, and the steep decline in beneficial insects who can eat pests. Instead of trying to change the DNA of highly stressed animals and monoculture crops to make them temporarily immune to disease, we should be investing in solutions that deal with the cause of disease and pests in the first place. History has proven that GM only benefits a minority of big businesses with a major rise in controlling crop patents and unwelcome, profitable traits such as herbicide-resistant weeds. 

Photo by Marcin Nowak on Unsplash

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