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for a responsible, fair & sustainable food system

Safeguards under threat

The UK Government is rushing to dismantle the safety net of public protections and appears determined to impose GMOs on all of us. Our food, our farms and the natural environment are under threat. It’s time to get involved and defend the sensible safeguards that the GM campaigners of the 1990s gained for us all.

Graphic illustrating threats to GM safeguards

Genetic Technology Bill

The Westminster Government has introduced a Genetic Technology Bill that could impose untested – and unlabelled – GMOs on the entire UK food chain. The bill only applies directly to England but that won’t stop it having an impact in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

What’s already happened

In 2021, the UK Government held a consultation on plans to remove plants and animals created using experimental new GM techniques from the scope of the GMO regulations that protect our food, our farms and the natural environment. The public responded with a resounding NO, but the Government is pushing on regardless.

A statutory instrument* (SI) recently changed GMO regulations by:

  • Creating a new class of GMO plants that “could have occurred naturally” or through a list of techniques that are legally classed as traditional breeding methods.
  • Allowing these GMOs to be released for any purpose other than “marketing” without proper safety checks or any measures to prevent escape and contamination.

More on the statutory instrument

No criteria were published during the passage of the SI for how to determine which genetic changes could have occurred in other ways. A Government committee has now drawn up non-statutory guidelines but GM developers do not have to prove that they are following them. To make matters worse, a recent analysis raises serious concerns about conflicts of interest on this key committee.

The change will only apply in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have much more GM-sceptical Governments but that doesn’t mean they won’t be affected. Pollen and seed don’t respect national boundaries any more than they turn left at a roundabout!

Perhaps most worrying of all, Government Ministers have made it clear that they see this change as just the beginning. They want to open the UK’s door wide to all forms of genetic engineering and we need to act now to have any hope of stopping them.

Our view of the Government’s approach

Classifying GMOs on the basis of what other ways they might have been created (in a parallel universe?) makes no sense – scientifically or legally. This was very clear in responses to the consultation, in which even organisations that strongly support GMOs criticised this approach.

GMOs can spread easily, contaminating crops growing nearby and getting into the food chain or disrupting the ecosystem.

Details of GMOs released under the new rules will not be made public – farmers could be growing their crops next door to an experimental GM version of the same plant and they would not know about it until something went wrong.

The Government claims that the new law is designed to support field trials but the wording will actually allow anyone to release these types of GMO as long as they don’t plan to sell what they grow.

You can watch recordings of the SI debates by a committee of MPs on Wednesday 2 March and by the House of Lords on Monday 14 March (from 21:16:45 or navigate via the Agenda tab).

* A statutory instrument (SI) is a form of secondary legislation. The Government uses SIs to change the law quickly because they don’t get much scrutiny or debate

Image demonstrating the risks of manipulating DNA

What GM Freeze did to oppose the SI

  • We wrote to a House of Lords committee to raise concerns about the SI. They then published a highly critical report on the plans.
  • We followed the Parliamentary progress of the SI in detail and briefed both MPs and members of the House of Lords. We also helped supporters to write to their own MP at the right time and in the most helpful way. Although we did not manage to stop the SI, MPs and peers made many of our key arguments in Parliament so those are now part of the official record.

Parliamentary processes mean we often have very little notice and need to ask supporters to act quickly so if you would like to help in this way in future, make sure you are signed up to receive our email alerts and action requests.

What GM Freeze is doing now

Ministers made some new commitments during the debate on the SI so we will be following up to check that they stick to them. We are also building a network of parliamentarians and others who are willing to speak out against the removal of vital GM safeguards.

We can’t do any of this work alone so we are talking to farmers, charities, campaigners and more to help them understand the issues and how their organisation can help. You can watch some of our presentations online, including:

We also have a petition to protect our GM labels and ensure they Don’t Hide What’s Inside our food

How you can help: Ask your MP to defend our right to choose

Political developments like these can move very quickly, without much notice. We will add specific action requests from time to time, but you can always help by:

  • Donating to GM Freeze. We are one of a handful of organisations working to challenge the use of GM in UK food and farming and we’re run on a shoestring so every penny really does count.
  • Joining our email list to ensure you hear about new developments and action requests first.
  • Talking about the threat to our food and our farms. If you are part of an organisation that shares your concern about a high-tech takeover of the food chain, email info[at]gmfreeze.org to discuss how they can be part of the solution.

 

How we got here

A new generation of genetic manipulation techniques has emerged in recent years. As is often the case with new technologies, all sorts of wild claims and unsubstantiated promises are being made about what these new GM techniques might – hypothetically – be able to achieve. At the same time, problems, risks and the impact of patents (which hand control of the food chain to agritech corporations) are being swept under the carpet.

Corporate lobbyists have the ear of Government. Their claims are very similar to those made over 20 years ago for first-generation GM, but their budgets are bigger and their PR is much more clever. Meanwhile, the movement for a responsible, fair and sustainable food system is underfunded and over-stretched. GM Freeze is here to support all those who want to protect our food, our farms and the natural environment so follow the links on this page to take action or email info[at]gmfreeze.org to discuss what else you can do.

The influence of Brexit

The Westminster Government’s enthusiasm for all things GM is undoubtedly influenced by the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Read our briefing: Brexit and GM, from December 2018 

Read our response to a Food Standards Agency consultation on Retained EU law, from October 2018 

We are concerned that, in addition to the changes already planned, the UK Government could give away our GM food labels to secure a trade deal. More information is available on our Don’t Hide What’s Inside campaign page