Background and introduction to the Gene Editing Consultation
This is one of a series of linked pages on the UK Government’s gene editing consultation. Please see the main consultation page for more information and guidance on taking part.
The government consultation on the regulation of genetic technologies is part of a political agenda for drastic deregulation across many sectors, including chemicals and scrap cars as well as genetically modified food. The Westminster government has given businesses an open invitation to suggest what regulations they would like to see scrapped. Essential safeguards that protect human health and the environment are being undermined.
This consultation follows the defeat of a last-minute House of Lords amendment to the UK’s Agriculture Bill in July 2020. The proposers of the amendment agreed to withdraw when the government promised to consult more widely on the issue.
The government wants to change the law on gene editing in food and farming within the next one to two years. They only have the power to make these changes in England, but the way that some other post-Brexit agreements work will likely mean that Scotland and Wales will be required to follow Westminster’s lead while Northern Ireland will have to abide by EU rules.
The purpose of regulation is to protect people and the environment. It is one of the ways that society deals with uncertainty. As genetic engineering technologies such as gene editing advance, so does the realisation that our knowledge of gene functioning is still very incomplete. By proposing to remove existing safeguards, the government appears to have decided that what we don’t know does not matter and that we should take our chances with potential adverse effects on people, animals and the environment.
What’s happening now?
The government has two goals – to deliver the promised consultation on deregulation and to consult more widely on what kind of regulation we want across a wide range of food and farming issues. This is why the consultation is divided into two parts. If you feel you only want to respond to Part 1 on the deregulation of gene editing, you are free to do so.
This consultation on the regulation of genetic technologies is unusual in that it is asking for a high level of ‘evidence’ from respondents. But remember, not everyone is expected to provide that evidence. You are entitled to express your views without feeling pressure to provide academic references for every point. The guidance below should help you with this.
It should also be noted here that the background material provided by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in its consultation document has come under heavy criticism for being both biased and inaccurate. None of its claims for the benefits of gene editing are scientifically proven and the document itself offers no evidentiary proof of the type that the government is demanding from respondents to this consultation.
Once the consultation is closed, the data collected will be analysed and Defra intends to publish a response around mid-June.
Our suggested responses to the consultation are based on our belief that:
- The government is not just seeking to alter the regulation of gene editing but that it is also paving the way for reduced regulation for GMOs in general.
- Whilst regulations should evolve with knowledge and experience, robust and transparent regulation remains necessary for all forms of genetic engineering.