Is the Government seeking to allow Genetically Modified Food into the UK through the back door?
One of the issues highlighted by the COVID 19 pandemic is how do we make risk assessments? Should we or should we not wear masks and in what situations? What is the correct distance for social distancing? Do we have responsibilities to protect ourselves so that we do not unknowingly pass the virus on to someone who passes it on to a person in the at-risk category?
So how does that relate to genetically modified food getting into the UK ‘through the back door?’
There is currently an Agricultural Bill going through Parliament. An amendment to the Bill has been proposed which aims to change the definition of a genetically modified organism (GMO) in order to exempt new genetic modification techniques, such as gene editing, from GMO regulations. That would mean no safety checks and no labelling – both of which are currently required for all GMOs. That clearly means existing risk assessments established to protect public health will be significantly diminished.
Read on to find out more about GM foods and the potential impact of new legislation. You may also like to register for the following event.
Why should the public be concerned?
With genetic modification, a gene from one organism is introduced into a completely different organism in a random ‘shotgun’ manner. With gene editing, modifications can be made to an existing gene, at a targeted location in the genome. So on one level, there is a difference but what the two processes have in common is that they both change the structure of the DNA of an organism. The problem with this is that this brings about new combinations of gene functions and can change the composition of plants in unexpected ways. That means they could produce new toxins or allergens or harm wildlife.
The short video below features Dr Michael Antoniou, London based molecular geneticist, highlighting the dangers of gene-edited food.
The risks are real, as all these effects have already occurred with older-style, first-generation GMOs.1 2
Some animal feeding studies with the first generation of GM crops show that the GM diet harmed the animals’ health.1
Would similar effects be seen from gene-edited plants? No one knows, as no animal feeding studies with these “new GMOs” have been published.
Is gene-editing natural and precise?
These new gene-editing techniques are often called “new plant breeding techniques” or NBTs by those pushing for deregulation – but in reality, they are completely different from natural breeding. They are artificial laboratory-based processes that are able to make changes that would never occur in nature.3 4
Gene editing is also called precise. But aforementioned research shows that gene-editing techniques are not as precise as claimed, nor are their outcomes predictable. They produce many unintended effects, not only at “off-target” sites but also at the intended gene-edited site. 5 6 7 8
Many unintended effects occur after the gene-editing tool has finished its task, when the editing process is at the mercy of the cell’s DNA repair machinery, over which genetic engineers have little or no control.
In light of these findings, 61 scientists have demanded that a precautionary stance must be taken on gene-edited products.9 10 They state that these products must be strictly regulated and labelled to enable farmer and consumer choice.
Who is behind the deregulation push?
Those pushing for deregulation constitute a powerful agbiotech lobby, including scientists based at research institutes, which depend heavily on agbiotech industry funding, and the NFU. The lobby wants to remove the usual safeguards applied to GMOs when it comes to products from new gene-editing techniques.11
The trigger for this lobbying effort is the 2018 ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that organisms obtained by gene-editing (called in the case “mutagenesis”) techniques are GMOs and fall under the GMO Directive.12 13 That means they must be subjected to safety checks and carry a GMO label.
The ruling states that gene-editing techniques do not have a long safety record and may pose similar risks to older-style GM techniques.14 However, the ruling upset the agbiotech lobby, which sees it as a barrier to business. And now that the UK is out of the EU, the “liberation” of GMOs is a key goal of Boris Johnson15, who wants to align the UK with lax US regulatory standards, in order to freely allow American GMOs, including gene-edited ones, into British food and farming.
In the medical research community, it is not disputed that gene-editing techniques are GM techniques that give rise to GMOs and that these procedures and their products carry risks that require strict regulation. Only in the field of agbiotech is de-regulation demanded.
Studies showing risks from GMO foods and their associated pesticides are attacked by agbiotech lobbyists and their allies in the scientific community.16 But much of that community is now dependent on industry funding and/or influenced by personal financial interests in agricultural biotechnology.17 18
This situation has led the American environmental anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone to remark that the scientific community has lost the “honest brokers” who should inform public policy about the risks of gene-editing.18
This is the reasonable “middle way” that we should take. It’s not a ban on gene editing, but equally, it is not the ‘Wild West’ free-for-all that the agbiotech lobby wants. Crucially, it is true to science and puts public and environmental safety before agbiotech industry profits.
What can you do to stop GM food coming into the UK?
Take action to tell decision-makers to reject the amendment to the Agriculture Bill. Remind them that gene editing must continue to be subjected to strict regulation and that the products must be labelled to enable consumer choice and traceability in the event that something goes wrong.
Article provided by Barry Spivak, accredited, qualified Transcendental Meditation teacher and passionate advocate of healthy lifestyles and consumer transparency.
For information about Transcendental Meditation in Colchester and North Essex contact Barry via his website: https://uk.tm.org/colchester or Telephone: 01394 420455