Amendment 275 to the Agriculture Bill
Dangers of Gene-Edited Foods
A small but extremely significant amendment to the Agriculture Bill has been proposed. If passed, it would pave the way for gene-edited foods, to enter the UK’s food and farming with no safety checks and no labelling! This could lead to gene-edited food appearing on our dinner plates without our knowledge. Gene editing is a new type of genetic modification (GM) technology.
The Agriculture Bill is making its way through Parliament and is being discussed in the House of Lords. The late addition of amendment 275 leaves inadequate opportunity for full parliamentary scrutiny by MPs.
This amendment to the Agriculture Bill would give the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (currently George Eustice) the power to change the definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO) and re-classify many forms of gene editing as non-GM.
If amendment 275 were passed, it would mean that many gene-editing genetic modification techniques will be exempt from the current regulations governing GMOs. This would start a process of removing all current safeguards on the use of gene-edited products on our farms and in our food. It would apply to all agricultural uses – to seeds, our food, animal feed, and even to farm animals themselves.
What does amendment 275 say?
The amendment is to de-regulate gene editing, an artificial laboratory-based genetic modification procedure.
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations modify the definitions contained in Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in relation to products of breeding techniques for agricultural purposes where nucleic acid changes could have occurred naturally or through traditional breeding methods. […]
Member’s explanatory statement To enable the Secretary of State to make changes to the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as it applies in England, in relation to breeding techniques after the UK leaves the EU. This would allow for regulation of new precision breeding techniques compatible with international definitions.
Don’t be distracted by unclear wording!
The “definition” that they intend to change is that of a genetically modified organism (GMO) in the Environmental Protection Act. In fact, to be absolutely clear, the title of part VI of the Environmental Protection Act, referred to in the amendment above, is ‘Genetically Modified Organisms’.
“Agricultural purposes” covers food, seeds, crops, animal feed and even farm animals themselves.
“Precision breeding” has no legal or scientific definition. This wording is both vague and
misleading. Gene-editing techniques are not precise. Nor are they breeding techniques.
Nucleic acid means DNA or RNA.
The “changes” to DNA and RNA referred to in the amendment are brought about through genetic engineering (including gene editing).
“Traditional breeding methods” are the kind of natural breeding methods that have been safely used for thousands of years.
July 2020 update
• Please ask your MP to do what they can to ensure strict regulation of gene-edited foods, in line with the scientific fact that these are genetically modified organisms.
• Safety checks and labelling of gene-edited foods are required.
• It is vital that gene-edited foods continue to be regulated, safety checked, and labelled
because they could have serious long-term health consequences – and the changes made to our food crops, and ultimately our entire ecosystem, will be irreversible.
• There is growing scientific evidence that gene editing is not precise, nor are the outcomes predictable or controllable. The types of changes brought about in food crops by gene editing could result in unexpected toxicity or allergenicity. Therefore gene-edited genetically modified organisms may pose risks to health and the environment that must be carefully assessed.
• Efforts to relax the safety measures through trade deals and amendments to the law are dangerous and must be resisted.
• Full disclosure labelling will allow consumers to choose what they eat and will enable traceability in the event that something goes wrong.