Adam Smith Inst - Its a snip: UK must embrace GMOs in post-Brexit freedom

From: Think Tanks
Published: Mon Dec 13 2021

Help the environment, farmers and consumers by adopting GMOs as well as gene editing, says think-tank

  • 1.7 billion lost to UK farming industry since 1996 due to GMO ban; globally, farmers have benefited 170 billion from GMOs between 1996 and 2018 while consumers save 18 billion per year
  • 23 billion kilotons of carbon emissions reduction - the equivalent of pulling 15.3 million cars off the road - and 800 million kgs less pesticide between 1996 and 2018 because of GMOs
  • 29 countries allow GMOs and the US approved 70 gene edited varieties in 2020; the UK is falling behind

The UK Government must go further with post-Brexit biotechnology plans by embracing GMOs in addition to gene editing in agriculture, a new report from the neoliberal, free market Adam Smith Institute argues.

The Institute says that the UK could become a global leader in biotechnology if it diverged from the EU's unscientific, hyperprecautionary approach towards GMOs and gene editing.

The Government has announced plans to reform gene editing regulations with respect to agriculture. The report, Splice of Life: The case for GMOs and gene editing, explains how genetic engineering allows farmers to breed crops with higher yields, thereby reducing fertilizer, water, and land, while boosting farmers' profits and lowering food prices.

Boris Johnson, in his first speech as prime minister in 2019, promised to liberate the U.K.'s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules. However, the current plans will not extend to genetically modified organisms (GMO) or animal gene editing research - which could save farmers hundreds of millions of pounds and improve animal welfare.

Even without domestic production, the UK imports roughly $140 million worth of soy, vegetable oils and animal feed from the US annually, much of which is derived from GMO plants.

Gene editing techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9, generally aim to change an organism's existing DNA. By contrast, GMOs are created by moving genetic material between different species. There is no scientific reason why the UK should allow gene editing while continuing to prohibit GMOs.

The author of the paper, biotechnology expert Cameron English, argues that regulation should follow a risk-based approach, based on potential harms and benefits, regardless of how an organism is developed. This argument has been accepted by DEFRA in the case of gene editing in agriculture but has not been applied to gene editing in animals or GMOs, despite compelling scientific evidence for consistency. It would mean assessing based on the end product and not the production process.

The Viscount (Matt) Ridley, Conservative peer in the House of Lords and science writer:

The government's sluggishness in embracing gene engineering is disappointing. This technology, in which Britain could be world-leading, provides immense benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment. Yet, as this important new report from the Adam Smith Institute highlights, gene editing will be severely hampered and GMOs will be left behind. Scientific evidence, not activist superstition, should be at the centre of policy making.

Cameron English, report author and Director of Bio-Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health, said:

The UK's gene editing liberalisation is an admirable step toward embracing biotech and promoting sustainable agriculture. But it is just a first step.

Britain could achieve much more by also allowing farmers to cultivate GMO crops. This would further reduce carbon emissions and pesticide use, while helping to feed more people at a lower cost.

There is no reason the UK should deny itself the incredible benefits many other countries have experienced by employing this safe, sustainable technology.

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute said:

The government is wasting the Brexit opportunity to become world leading in biotechnology. We have the technology to produce more with less environmental impact, boosting British farmers and providing lower prices to consumers. Yet, inexplicably, red tape will continue to entangle our innovators and producers.

Notes to editors:

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact John Macdonald, | 0758 477 8207.

Cameron English is the Director of Bio-Sciences at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a consumer advocacy group dedicated to promoting evidence-based public policy and refuting health scares. Prior to joining ACSH, Cameron was the Managing Editor at the Genetic Literacy Project.

The report Splice of Life: The case for GMOs and gene editing' is available here.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.

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