Scotland will not follow England and change GM rules, minister says

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will remove barriers to British research into new gene editing technology
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will remove barriers to British research into new gene editing technology

The Scottish government has signalled it will not change Scotland's GM regulatory regime after Westminster introduced a bill shifting policy on gene edited crops and livestock.

The UK government announced new legislation through the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill to allow rules around gene editing of crops - and eventually animals - to be relaxed in England.

The post-Brexit law change means that scientists will be able to undertake research and development using the technique, following years of restrictions due to EU law.

For the most part, farming industry groups, such as the NFU, welcomed the bill's introduction, calling it a 'science-based legislative change'.

The union said the legislation change had the potential to offer a number of benefits to UK food production and to the environment.

The UK government had invited Scotland to join in on the legislation, the day before the Bill was introduced in Westminster.

However, in a new letter to Defra Secretary George Eustice, Scotland's farming minister Mairi McAllan rejected the invitation.

She said the use of genetic technologies was a "complex and emotive area", adding that it was "abundantly clear that there are issues that need to be addressed".

Furthermore, there were "serious considerations" around trade, including with the EU, the UK's biggest trading partner.

Gene-edited products from England could also enter devolved areas, Ms McAllan warned, which would be “unacceptable”.

"We have been clear that we do not presently intend to amend the GM regulatory regime in Scotland to remove categories of products which are currently regulated as GMOs," the minister said.

"The views of stakeholders in Scotland will be central to decision-making in this devolved area of responsibility (as is our pursuit of the highest environmental standards more generally).

"This encompasses views and evidence from the scientific community, views from across the spectrum of industry interests and, crucially, the views of consumers and the public as a whole."

Ms McAllan went on to say that "consumer information and choice is key", and that the public had a right to know what they were consuming.

"As your Impact Assessment to the Bill acknowledges, the market for precision-bred products 'ultimately depends on prevailing consumer attitudes to products which contain genetically engineered material', and 'the public’s acceptance of GE and similar products remains an area of uncertainty.'

"Your own consultation last year rejected the changes to the regulation of GM that you are now pursuing. I am therefore extremely concerned that the UK government’s preferred option, as set out in the Bill documentation, will not require labelling of precision-bred products."

She added: "Not only does this obstruct the enforcement of our devolved powers to regulate produce covered by the GM crops, animals and food and feed regimes in Scotland, but I am firmly of the view that the public have a right to know what they are consuming."

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will go through the second reading stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday (15 June).