Changing the future of food and farming

Our response to the Defra public consultation on Genome editing

ORC submitted responses to Defra’s Consultation on future of gene editing both as part of the English Organic Forum and as an organisation.

As a member of the English Organic Forum (EOF), the Organic Research Centre is in agreement with the Forum’s response to the Defra consultation on gene editing, including its basic principles that:

  • Gene editing is a genetic engineering technology and its process and products are GMOs as defined by the EU Directive on GMOs (Directive 2001/18). Consequently, all gene editing should be regulated as GMOs, in accord with the European Court of Justice Ruling of July 2018. This is consistent with scientific concepts and terminology and international treaties such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Gene editing is a developing technology which is likely to play a role in future farming and food systems. Some farmers will wish to use the products of gene editing and some consumers will be willing to purchase gene edited products.
  • Therefore, different approaches to agriculture (in particular organic, non-GM conventional and GM conventional) should coexist and thereby enable farmers to choose which approach they wish to follow and give consumers the possibility of buying products from the farming system they wish to support.
  • Such co-existence should be equitable and the organic approach and market should not be undermined, threatened or unfavourably treated in any way; including in the areas of government financial support, R&D funding, supply chain integrity and development, market integrity, policy, public education and messaging.

Informed by the work of EOF and other background briefing, in our response we emphasised the importance of two core recommendations with respect to the current consultation, namely that:

1. All forms of gene editing should be subject to robust regulation and risk assessments.

2.  Proper recognition and investment should be given to the whole diversity of different available approaches to transforming and delivering a sustainable and healthy food system, including organic and other agroecological farming.

Conclusions

Overall, we recognise that gene editing is a powerful technology and acknowledge it may, depending on circumstances and context, bring benefits as well as risks to the development of a more resilient and sustainable farming and food system. It should be pursued, but cautiously and under continued strong regulation. To meet today’s challenges, this technological development should be rooted in a more ambitious and wide-ranging, joined-up suite of agroecological, farming system based approaches including organic production, a system that is proven to be more resilient and sustainable compared to the current, prevalent, non-organic (so called ‘conventional’) farming.

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