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GM food charity accuses Defra consultation of bias

Department has ‘already decided’ to de-regulate gene edited foods, says Beyond GM.
17 February 2021 , Katie Coyne

A charity raising awareness around genetically modified foods has raised a serious complaint around Defra’s current consultation on deregulating gene-edited foods.

In response to the consultation, Beyond GM recently produced an open letter it sent to UK supermarkets, signed by more than 50 food experts and charities, urging them to reject unlabelled gene-edited foods.

But the charity has since complained to Defra that the consultation does not meet the government’s own procedural guidelines.

Guidelines state that questions shouldn’t be asked about issues on which a final view has already been formed. Yet Beyond GM said environment secretary George Eustice has already said publicly that he wants to deregulate gene-edited foods.

The charity has also criticised the consultation questions and wording as “prejudicial” rather than informative. And it compared Defra’s ten-week consultation, which it said appeared to have been “hastily” put together, with Norway’s approach involving an 18-month review that will look at implications across health, environment, ethics, sustainability and economics.

The full list of criticisms are laid out on the charity’s website, and in her article director Pat Thomas said that Defra’s “underlying purpose appears to be to find a way to deregulate other forms and other uses of genetic engineering”.

Defra advised that the proposal would align England with many countries outside of the EU, and that there would be full parliamentary scrutiny before any legislative changes were made. A spokesperson gave the following statement: “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, such as breeding crops that perform better, benefitting farmers and reducing impacts on the environment.

“Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to make coherent policy decisions on gene editing based on current science and evidence. We are committed to proportionate, science-based regulation that protects people, animals and the environment – and that begins with this consultation.”

Defra said it would be getting back to Beyond GM’s complaint in due course.

The department also said that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was undertaking research into consumer views related to gene-editing. The FSA said a full research report into the findings will be published on its website by the summer, including methodological details.

FSA started the work earlier this month, carrying out qualitative research involving 80 consumers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland each completing two online workshops. FSA said many participants also took part in further online exercises. Quantitative research will take place over the coming months in the form of an online survey gathering the views of 2,000 consumers across the three nations.


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