Genetically engineered food does not need to be labelled in supermarkets because the science is simply speeding up the natural process, the farming minister has said.
Mark Spencer told farmers that Britain needed to stay “at the forefront” of genetically engineered (GE) crops, which he said would have a “huge positive impact” on food security.
Asked whether such products should be labelled once they went from field trials to products on shelves, he said “we’re not going to go down that route”.
Further support for GE crops came as a result of a recent study from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) which supported a proposal to relax restrictions on gene editing technology to improve crop yields and boost resistance to diseases.
The IEA report has backed the government’s proposed Precision Breeding Bill, which aims to update the regulatory framework related to precision-bred plants and animals developed through techniques such as gene editing.
The think tank - which influenced the policy ideas of former prime minister Liz Truss - also said that the UK must go further than current reforms and embrace genetic modification.
Technologies developed in the last decade enable genes to be edited more quickly and precisely to mimic the natural breeding process, helping to target plant and animal breeding. Some proponents of the science argue that this could help the UK reach its climate and biodiversity goals in a safe and sustainable way.
Under the EU legislation currently in place in the UK, gene editing is regulated in the same way as genetic modification, despite the fact that gene-edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, unlike gene-modified ones.
The IEA report has described this regulatory framework as a “costly prohibition”.
However, the UK’s exit from the EU could allow for the introduction of new rules on the issue, including the proposed Precision Breeding Bill.
“After tolerating the EU’s outmoded genetic engineering rules for decades, England is poised to take a monumental step by allowing the commercial use of gene-editing in plant and animal breeding,” said Cameron English, director of bio-sciences at the American Council on Science and Health and author of the IEA’s report.
“The technology can be safely utilised to boost crop yields, reduce pesticide use and improve animal welfare – to name just a few of its many benefits.
“Hopefully, England will continue its progress toward a science-based farm policy and approve the cultivation of genetically modified crops (GMOs) as well.”