Regulatory Policy Committee: Government’s case for deregulation “not fit for purpose”

June 24, 2022 by Staff Writer

A report published last night by the government’s Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) concludes that the government has failed to make a convincing business case for the deregulation of genetically engineered (so called “precision bred”) organisms in the farming and food system.

The RPC is an independent body, sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) whose role is to “assess the quality of evidence and analysis used to inform regulatory proposals affecting the economy, businesses, civil society, charities and other non-government organisations”. It warns that, even as the government rushes to conclude the Commons phase of the bill’s passage before the summer recess, it has failed to prove its case.

The report concludes that, overall, the government’s analysis of the full impact of deregulating genome edited plants and animals is “weak” and that the impact assessment:

  • has not adequately considered and discussed the full range of potential impacts arising from the creation of a new category of genetically modified organisms
  • has not sufficiently considered and discussed the full range of impacts upon small and medium businesses
  • requires a detailed assessment of the competition, innovation, consumer and environmental impacts
  • needs to include greater discussion of the impacts arising from removing labelling and traceability requirements
  • needs to be improved by revisiting the assumption relating to the devolved administrations (DAs) and what impact this will have on the number of trials across the various scenarios.

It also notes that the quality of the Equivalent Annual Net Direct Cost to Business (EANDCB) and the Small and Micro Businesses Assessment (SaMBA) estimates provided by government are not based on validated evidence and “Therefore, the RPC is unable to certify that the IA is fit for purpose.”

It notes, also, that “much of the evidence regarding risk discussed in the IA, is drawn from interested parties, or based on scientific trials, that do not replicate real-world conditions (including farmers’ behaviour). Such a narrative could, in turn, impede research, development and evaluation of an important new technology.”

Pat Thomas, Director of Beyond GM comments:

“Deregulation represents a substantial change in UK legislation and a substantial divergence from what UK citizens say they want. The case for wholesale deregulation has always been weak and the government must be held to account for the wild assumptions and blind guesswork it is using to justify this Bill. There is no solid evidence base for claiming that deregulation will benefit UK Plc and the removal of all requirements of traceability, including labelling, is an underhanded way to sneak these foods into our food system, and one that will irreparably damage public trust.”

She notes that 85% of all respondents to last year’s public consultation said they did not want gene edited crops and foods to be deregulated in the UK.

Civil society speaks out

A civil society Joint Statement on the Genetic Technologies (Precision Breeding) Bill, published earlier this month and raising concerns about the bill, continues to attract support.

Currently 34 diverse groups and individuals have thrown their weight behind the statement, which was organised by advocacy group Beyond GM.

Included in the list of signatories are Friends of the Earth, Wildlife and Countryside Link, the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, the Landworkers’ Alliance, Green Christian, Slow Food, the Soil Association, Doves Farm and the Food Ethics Council.

The statement notes: “This bill represents a significant change in the law and has huge implications for farming, food, animal welfare, the environment, the UK’s internal market and its trading relationships with key global markets. It is clear that, in its haste to deregulate, the Government has not adequately considered these implications.”

It concludes “We are concerned that too few MPs have grasped the full implications of the bill and that, as a result, it could pass into law without the full debate and major revisions it requires. We urge our parliamentarians to take steps to prevent this from happening.”

False in the media

The government isn’t the only one pedalling a hollow case for deregulation. As the pace intensifies around the Genetic Technologies Bill it is disappointing to see so many media outlets still unquestioningly repeating the false narrative about gene editing. We urge our supporters to be aware of the following points:

  • The Genetic Technologies Bill is a bill for industry not for food, farming, sustainability, biodiversity or climate change. The Impact Assessment clearly states that any environmental or public good benefits are indirect and “spillover” and it presents no figures to substantiate any such presumed benefits.
  • The term “precision breeding” is a euphemism not a scientific discipline, it has no place in legitimate legislation (see this recent legal and scientific brief by legal firm Leigh Day and civil society group Arrow Northwest) .
  • The government narrative that so called “precision bred organisms” do not involve the insertion of foreign genes is false
  • Tomatoes do not naturally contain vitamin D – so how can a tomato genetically engineered to contain vitamin D legitimately be called “natural”?


More information

Read: Civil society to MPs: The gene editing bill must be amended

Read: FOI documents show Defra wilfully ignores public views on gene editing

Read : A ‘Precision Breeding’ Bill to fast-track GMO deregulation in England