UK Policy on genetic modification

July 2011

Big Ben Tower Clock, London
Photo from Flickr
The Coalition Government in Westminster has released its first policy statement on “Genetic Modification (GM)” (see Below).

Its “overriding priorities” are “the protection of human health and the environment”.

To ensure these priorities are met, the government “will only agree” to the release of GMOs (crops and others) and to the marketing of GM food and feed providing:
  • “a robust risk assessment indicates it is safe”
  • full account has been taken of the scientific evidence
  • clear labelling and suitable information are provided to enable consumer choice
  • in the event of commercial GM crops being grown in England, economic interests of conventional and organic farming are “appropriately protected”.
In addition, GM technology has been relegated to the “longer term challenges”, and developing countries are to be allowed to “make their own informed decisions regarding (GM) use”, while at home the government “will listen to public views about the development and use of the technology”.

Needless to say, there's a get-out clause: “regulations of (GM) technology must be proportionate”.

Genetic modification (GM) – UK Government policy

The protection of human health and the environment are our overriding priorities.
The Government will only agree to the planting of GM crops, the release of other types of GM organism, or the marketing of GM food or feed products, if a robust risk assessment indicates that it is safe for people and the environment. GM product applications should be assessed for safety on a case-by-case basis, taking full account of the scientific evidence.

The Government will ensure consumers are able to exercise choice through clear GM labelling rules and the provision of suitable information, and will listen to public views about the development and use of the technology.

The Government supports farmers having access to developments in new technology and being able to choose whether or not to adopt them. If and when GM crops are grown in England commercially, we will implement pragmatic and proportionate measures to segregate these from conventional and organic crops, so that choice can be exercised and economic interests appropriately protected.

The Government recognises that GM technology could deliver benefits providing it is used safely and responsibly, in particular as one of a range of tools to address the longer term challenges of global food security, climate change, and the need for more sustainable agricultural production. Developing countries should have fair access to such technology and make their own informed decisions regarding its use.

To encourage innovation, fair market access for safe products and economic growth, the Government believes that regulation of this technology must b proportionate.


There's no indication in the Policy that the present Westminster government has the same enthusiasm for GM crops as all the previous ones during the GM era. As GM Freeze comments

“This is a tepid response from the Coalition Government that falls miles short of a ringing endorsement of GM crops. There may be scope in the language used to back GM crops in the future, but the biotech industry have not been given a green light for now”.

You might like to test whether the coalition government really means to implement its policy of listening to public views.

For example:

  1. If the over-riding priority is protection of health, why is the precautionary principle not mentioned in the policy?
  2. Does the Policy on taking full account of the scientific evidence now mean that the UK will stop its practice of supporting GM approvals in Europe when doubts about the scope of the science are being raised by fellow member states?
  3. The recent report, 'Roundup and birth defects: is the public being kept in the dark' questions the robustness of the risk assessment of Roundup Ready crops. It reveals that the current GM risk assessment excludes up-to-date test methods which can give early warnings of chronic disease, and cherry-picks the science (see ROUNDUP AND BIRTH DEFECTS – A NEW REPORT –  June 2011). Does the “over-riding priority” to protect human health and the specified need for a “robust risk assessment” mean that the issues raised in this report will be addressed before we are expected to consume any more Roundup?
  4. Point out that GM labelling cannot be clear (nor honest) unless it includes GM-fed meat and dairy products, GM-derived additives, and GM processing aids.
  5. Ask what is meant by “appropriate” protection of the economic interests of non-GM farms in the event of GM crops being grown in England. You can cite: A. A recent study headed by a Swiss agri-economist found that protecting crops from GMOs could cost up to 20 percent of the productions costs. (Note. Switzerland has a moratorium on GMOs until 2013). Is a cost amounting to up to one-fifth of productions costs “appropriate”? Is any cost “appropriate? B. US rice growers have suffered repeated damage to their crops (death, altered growth , malformation and low yield) from spraying of nearby GM herbicide-tolerant crops. How much such collateral damage is “appropriate”? Is any such collateral damage “appropriate”? C. Gene-pollution affects crops and the soil, and is cumulative; it may never be eradicated and could cause economic damage forever. Is there any “appropriate” level of protection which can be employed under these circumstances?
  6. Does the application of GM to “longer-term challenges” mean business as usual, but avoiding the herbicide-tolerant and Bt-insecticidal GM crops which haven't gone down well.
  7. Developing countries can only take charge of their own future GM use if British overseas development initiatives are helping them along their own desired course, not joining the American and Gates' Foundation pressure to adopt foreign agricultural models (especially GM)
  8. To what is the regulation of GM to be “proportionate”? Number of deaths? Number of people made sick? US regulations? Profit?
Your MP should be happy to represent you in putting these questions to the Westminster Government. If not, don't vote for him/her and make sure everyone in your constituency knows why.

  • New Coalition Government GM Policy – Westminster realising GM doesn't deliver? GM Freeze Press Release, 21.06.11
  • Shielding crops from GMOs proves costly, World Radio Switzerland, 16.05.11
  • Mike Wagner, Glyphosate drift to rice a problem for all of us, Farm Press, 12.05.11

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