Great Britain's roadmap for the deregulation of genetic engineering

- The British government now wants to apply Brexit to genetic engineering regulations as well. Plants developed with new genetic engineering are soon to be exempted from regulations on genetic engineering. This is intended to strengthen the UK's role as one of the leading countries for genetic engineering research. British farmers and food exporters are facing hard times.

Before the end of the year, DEFRA, the British Ministry of the Environment, intends to decree through administrative procedures that field trials with genetically modified plants will no longer require approval, but only notification. The only prerequisite is that the genetic modifications could theoretically also have been developed using conventional breeding methods.

Deregulation of new genetic engineering possibly only the first step

In a next step, such plants are to be completely excluded from genetic engineering legislation. The ministry claims that they do not pose any greater risk than products of conventional breeding. It merely wants to examine "what measures are needed to allow genetically modified products to be placed on the market, including consumer choice and traceability." In the process, Britain's high standards for environmental and food safety would "of course be maintained" and not weakened, Environment Minister George Eustice promised.

Organisms in which foreign DNA has been inserted into the genetic material, as well as modified farm animals, will continue to be subject to genetic engineering legislation for the time being. However, the government has already announced that it intends to review the entire genetic engineering regulations after these initial steps.

Food producers warn: Exports to the EU will become more difficult

The British Plant Breeders Association welcomed the minister's announcement. The National Farmers Union also welcomes the move and hopes for disease-resistant and climate-adapted new crops promised by seed producers. The Food and Drinks Federation, a food manufacturers' association, takes a similar view, but warned already in January of the possible consequences of deregulation for exports to the EU. The relevant trade union also fears that the British legislative plans could lead to additional trade barriers for British food and thus endanger jobs. This is because organisms produced using new genetic engineering also require approval if they are to be imported into the EU. The planned deregulation is further complicated by the UK's federal state structure. The governments of Scotland and Wales have criticized DEFRA's move and announced they want to stick to EU rules and the precautionary principle.

Deregulation despite majority disapproval: "Slap in the face of democracy"

The roadmap now announced is DEFRA's response to a consultation held in February 2021. 6440 responses the ministry received according to the ministry’s own information. 88 percent of citizens and 64 percent of companies supported placing new genetic engineering processes under genetic engineering regulations as before, the ministry acknowledged. Despite these unambiguous figures, it followed a few pro-GE statements from scientific and public institutions in its assessment. A "slap in the face of democracy", the organization GMWatch therefore called the ministry's roadmap. It completely ignores the scientific evidence of the risks of new genetic engineering processes for consumers and the environment. The British Soil Association also vehemently rejects the government's plans.

DEFRA: Consultation outcome Genetic technologies regulation: government response (29 September 2021)

DEFRA: Consultation outcome Genetic technologies regulation: government response explainer (29 September 2021)

DEFRA: Plans to unlock power of gene editing unveiled (29 September 2021)

National Farmers Union: Plans set out for future of gene editing (29 September 2021)

Sky News: Gene editing of British produce could cause problems for exports to the EU (10 January 2021)

Food Manufacture: Gene editing ban reviews spark Unite union concern (07 May 2021)

GMWatch: Putting money before life (29 September 2021)

GMWatch: Scotland, Wales won't follow Westminster govt on gene editing deregulation (02 October 2021)