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Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: Regulation, risk and precaution: Government Response published

21 October 2015

The Science and Technology Committee has received a response from the Government to the 'Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement’ Report produced by the previous Committee on 26 February 2015. It has been published as a Special Report (HC 519) also including a letter from the European Commission.

Chair's comments

Nicola Blackwood MP, chair of the S&T Committee, said:

"GM generates polarised views, both in the UK and across Europe. The Government’s response to the Committee’s report acknowledges that the politics of GM are acting as a barrier to developing novel crop varieties. The Government commits to challenge 'unjustifiable obstacles' but in fact evidence based EU decisions in this area are hard to come by. The impact of the latest proposals from Europe to allow individual states to restrict GM, not just for cultivation but now also for use in feed and food, requires proper scrutiny. The S&T Committee will be examining this area through a public 'evidence-check' over the next few months."

Science and Technology Committee previous report

The previous S&T Committee published its report on Advanced Genetic Techniques for Crop Improvement: Regulation, Risk and Precaution Report (PDF 1.29 MB) on 26 February 2015.

Its report concluded that the EU’s current regulatory regime for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) threatens to prevent a broad variety of advanced genetic techniques, that could produce novel crop varieties, from reaching the UK and European markets. The Committee called on the Government to "publicly state its long-term commitment to major reform of the EU legislative framework for genetically modified organisms and other novel crops".

The previous Committee was critical of the way some groups concealed their value-based opposition to GM "behind false claims of scientific uncertainty and misleading statements regarding safety" (para 129). The Committee called for the debate around GM to be reframed and widened to encourage a more constructive conversation about what consumers want from food and agriculture.

Government response

The Government in its response, published today, states that it will "actively play its part" to move "the debate on from a polarised discussion". In Europe it would "like any unjustified obstacles to the use of advanced breeding techniques to be overcome", but believes that the prospects for seeking EU reform of GM regulation would be "limited" by what the UK Government "can realistically achieve given the nature of the politics around GM at the European level".

Recent amendments to the EU Deliberate Release Directive allow member states to restrict or ban GM cultivation on their territory on ‘non-scientific grounds’, including where GMOs are judged by the European Food Safety Authority to pose no risk to human health or the environment. The governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have all indicated that they will restrict or ban GM cultivation. In its letter to the Committee, the European Commission describes the amendments as "a positive step towards the alignment of the legislation with citizens’ expectations while respecting the rights of all parties".

While the Deliberate Release Directive deals with GM cultivation, the European Commission’s letter highlights that it has recently concluded a review of the authorisation process of GM for food and feed in the EU and has proposed changes to the legislation to allow member states to ban the use of GM for food or feed in a similar way that states may restrict cultivation. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has examined these latest proposals (ESC report, para 14.1-14.19) (PDF 3.98 MB) and has recommended that these be considered in the House of Commons by European Committee A.

Evidence-check

The S&T Committee will soon be undertaking an 'evidence-check' exercise on a range of policy areas, including GM. This exercise is drawing on the work of the Institute for Government on evidence-based policy-making in Government. Their report, Show your workings, is also published today.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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