Unite, the UK’s leading union, is urging caution over moves by both the UK and the EU to relax rules governing the commercial use of gene editing in agriculture.

Last week, the European Commission (EC) launched a review into EU laws governing the use of gene editing, which is currently banned, after declaring them ‘not fit for purpose’

Meanwhile, reports indicate that during the Queen’s Speech on 11 May, the UK government will relax gene editing rules for agriculture. 

In January, environment secretary George Eustice opened a consultation into gene editing by stating that it is ‘an important new technology to meet the challenges of the future’.

Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson, said: “Similar promises about pesticide reduction and plants being adapted for climate change were made by companies pushing the first generation of genetically modified (GM) crops. 

“Those promises failed to materialise then and are now being made in relation to gene editing by many of the same agri-tech multinationals.

“These companies have proved time and again that their quest for market dominance obliterates labour or environmental rights regardless of where they operate.  

“There may well be some legitimate benefits to gene editing in agriculture. However, our members across the food industry, from farming to manufacturing, are deeply concerned about its potential impact on the environment and consumer health, as well as on jobs and the wider food supply chain. 

“Both the UK and EU must ensure the legitimate worries surrounding gene editing are acted upon and that the ‘precautionary principle’ is adhered to in relation to introducing genetically modified produce into the food chain and wider environment. 

“Despite both the UK and the EU seemingly heading in the same direction on gene editing, we also have concerns that changes to regulatory regimes could lead to trading barriers that hurt the British food industry and ultimately impact our members’ jobs. 

“We call on the UK government to deliver a cast iron guarantee that this will not happen.”  

ENDS 

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.