The Soil Association has responded to Farming Minister George Eustice’s comments that Chequers will not stop UK embracing gene editing tech, despite the recent ECJ verdict on the legal status of new genetic engineering techniques.

Emma Hockridge, Head of Policy, Farming and Land Use at Soil Association, said: “The Soil Association absolutely rejects the suggestion by Farming Minister George Eustice that gene-editing is needed if we are to reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides and that the recent ECJ ruling should be ignored.

“Scientific research has long shown that these new gene editing technologies give rise to similar uncertainties and risks as GM always has, and we would urge the government to ensure the UK stays aligned with this ruling based on scientific evidence, including the study published by leading journal Nature that shows that the technique ‘causes many profound mutations and DNA damage’.

“Despite decades of claims that traditional GM plant breeding is completely safe, that it would feed the world, reduce pesticide use and deliver all sorts of other benefits, the evidence has often shown GM crops to have been a disaster.

“We have always been clear that these new plant breeding techniques are GMOs and therefore are banned in organic farming and food. This position is shared within the organic sector at the European (IFOAM EU) and international level (IFOAM Organics International), and by many scientists.

“The outcome of gene-editing is to manipulate and alter the genome in a laboratory to make a new organism. This is the very definition of genetic engineering, and gene-editing risks introducing similar uncertainties and unintended consequences as genetic modification of DNA.

“The Soil Association will continue to encourage the cultivation of open pollination seeds, which can help farmers adapt to a changing climate by breeding drought and pest tolerant plants. Breeding crops in this way has proven to be lower-cost, faster and more effective than GM, particularly when informed by new technologies like Marker Assisted Selection, based on our new knowledge of the genome.”