Genetically modified, or GM, crops have been a hot-button issue in UK regulatory spheres for decades. To complicate matters further, a recent EU Commission ruling stated that even crops edited with Crispr-cas9, a modification technique that uses genes from the same species, must be held to the same standards as crops modified with genes from other species, according to the New York Times.
Genetic modification primarily involves introducing a foreign gene to a genome of an organism. The gene introduced can be from the same species, like when using Crispr-cas9, or it may be from an entirely different species, as with most previously regulated crops. Alterations are often made to increase the overall yield, to make crops resistant to pests and to allow them to withstand various environmental calamities.
A GM crop is sold in market only after several rounds of scrutiny. Products are approved by authorities like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the U.S. and DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in the UK. Despite this, many GM crops are still regulated heavily in the EU and this ruling sheds further lights on the pervasive anti-GM attitudes in EU regulatory environments. Currently, only one variety of GM crop can be cultivated in Europe – maize – as reported in an article for Genewatch UK. Even this is cultivated to feed farm animals and has not been declared fit for human use.
As Brexit approaches, DEFRA and other regulatory agencies are considering amendments and adjustments in various policies.
However, Michael Gove, the Secretary of DEFRA, answered ambiguously when asked about the changes in GM regulation in the UK by The Telegraph.
The lack of commitment on the part of Mr. Gove is indicative of the UK being stuck between a rock and a hard place – the US is eager to negotiate a trade deal which lessens current GM regulation while the EU Commission has been firm against any compromise on food standards.