With the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act now passed into law, Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, is advocating for quick progress with its implementation.

According to Food Navigator, Coffey spoke at a recent event in London about the need to bring the theory of gene editing (GE) into practice as soon as possible. “We need to get on with it frankly,” commented the Minister, adding that GE would ‘help us design climate resilient wheat and could help us design out the need for quite so much pesticide or use of artificial fertilizer’, and could enable farmers to grow crops using less water. “It’s a really exciting opportunity and a massive commercial opportunity too.”

Coffey is also reported to have expressed support for the ‘sensible’ use of pesticides, including the controversial herbicide glyphosate, calling it ‘perfectly safe’ as a means of support for no-till farming practices. Her comments come amid reaction from environmental and health campaigners over EFSA’s conclusion that glyphosate is ‘unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans’.

It’s absolutely right to question the motives … of any piece of legislation that allows a large and well-funded industry to fly so far below the regulatory radar

When the Precision Breeding Act became law in March, Pat Thomas, director of Beyond GM, offered this view of the legislatory changes in a newsletter to supporters of her campaign against GE: The Genetic Technology Act has a single beneficiary: the biotech industry. It removes meaningful regulatory control – including safety assessments, consumer labelling and monitoring – from a staggering range of genetically modified plants and animals in our food system and the wider environment. It allows biotech developers to self-certify that their engineered organisms are safe and beneficial and imposes no penalties if that turns out to be untrue. I think it’s absolutely right to question the motives and the consequences of any piece of legislation that allows a large and well-funded industry to fly so far below the regulatory radar.”

She added: “The political context of this Act is as important as the scientific context. The UK Government has shown complete disdain for science by inventing its own category of GMOs – the precision bred organism (PBO). This PBO is a special Brexit GMO that, we are told, will transport the United Kingdom to the sunny uplands of global tech dominance while at the same time fixing our food system and wider environmental problems. The catch is that gene editing technology, which has been around for more than a decade, consistently over-promises and under-delivers and that makes it an economic, food system and environmental failure. We should be focusing on solutions that work.”