Now that the Brexit negotiations are underway many are asking what laws the UK government will seek to change once they have been returned to Westminster. One particular political stance under the watchful eye of the scientific community is GMOs. The EU has been very vocal in its opposition to GMOs in the past, to such an extent that strict legislation governs their cultivation and usage. Their concerns are related to the environment and public health. This article isn’t to convince you that GMOs are safe, but rather to ask: What will Britain do once the GMO legislation comes to London? Will we continue the archaic anti-GMO front of the EU or adopt a more progressive approach to GMOs post Brexit?
In order for a GMO product to be imported or marketed in the EU there are authorisation criteria that must be met. These criteria are incredibly strict and specific (1). The cautious approach to GMOs by the EU has been met by criticism from the scientific community but the position has remained largely unchanged. In fact, during the summer of 2015, the Scottish government made plans to ban the cultivation of GM crops in Scotland. This action was seen as a political action rather than scientific. The Scottish government has a reputation for being progressive and forward thinking in terms of technology and science (2). This move revealed a political motive to distance themselves from the UK government. Many prominent plant researchers in Scotland signed an open letter to the Scottish government warning them about what this ban would mean for research. The ban was pushed forward despite outcry from the Scottish scientific community. This braising action showed that political agendas are dominating the views people have of GMOs.
As Brexit negotiations continue many are wondering if the UK government will become more progressive in terms of GMOs. Only time will tell. The conservatives appear, on the face of it at least, to be more open to the possibility of lifting GMO restrictions post-Brexit. The SNP government in Scotland clearly has other ideas and will no doubt politicise the issue even further. Regardless of political affiliation it should disappoint people that the scientific community is not being properly consulted or listened to on this issue. Sound bites and political sparring have far too much of an impact at such a critical time for our scientific laws and regulations.
There is not much to report as the process of Brexit is still very much young. However one thing is clear: in a country where politics dominates, scientists will need to step up and tell it to the politicians straight. We must change our view on GMOs or face slipping backward economically as more pro-GMO nations such as the US will out-compete us.
(2) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/09/scotland-to-issue-formal-ban- on-genetically-modified-crops