Internal Market Act could force GM crops on Scotland

The news that a full consultation on gene editing techniques has begun in England was welcomed by many at yesterday’s Oxford Farming Conference, but rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, said Scotland will not be following suit in the short term.

Speaking at the conference, Ewing condemned any notion of England considering going it alone on the issue as “premature” and said that any resulting divergence between the UK and EU on the issue could pose a serious threat to free trading of goods.

He said the move was especially precipitous when the EU was currently reviewing the stance which it had taken after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in 2018 that gene edited crops should be subjected to the same rigorous regulatory framework as older genetically modified varieties, despite the fact that no foreign DNA was introduced.

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“So we do, in Scotland, have strong reservations about pressing ahead with a consultation when the EU’s own findings will be released in April.”

However, Defra secretary, George Eustice issued a strong rebuttal, stating things had changed since the UK had left the trading block.

“We no longer have to sit on our hands and wait for orders to be passed down from Brussels,” he said.

“No longer do we have to hold on to the coat-tails of the EU – our scientists make us global leaders on this issue and it is widely accepted that there is a significant difference between the techniques which edit genes already present in a species and the older technology which added ones from different species.”

However, when questioned on what would happen if the different administrations adopted different approaches to the technology, he conceded that the UK’s internal market bill would mean that goods and produce from one sector would have to be available for sale across the whole of the UK.

“This is largely parallel with the situation which existed when we were members of the EU – as different countries could take different approaches to the cultivation of GM crops – and while they might prevent them being grown within their borders, they couldn’t prohibit the sale of these goods if produced in other member states.”

However, this issue was picked up in the Scottish government’s formal response to news of the English consultation, with rural affairs minister Ben Macpherson stating that Scotland’s policy on the cultivation of GM crops remained unchanged.

“We will be maintaining Scotland’s GM-free crop status, in line with our commitment to stay aligned to EU regulations and standards and have made our views known to UK ministers.”

He said the move was an example of why his administration believed the UK Internal Market Act ate into the Scottish government’s powers.

“While any definition change outlined in their consultation would not in legal terms extend to Scotland, the UK Internal Market Act would force Scotland to accept the marketing, sale and free circulation of products in Scotland, which do not meet the standards set out in the Scottish regulations.”