SCOTLAND may soon be “forced to accept the marketing, sale and free circulation” of genetically modified food as England looks to change its own laws in the area post-Brexit, the Scottish Government has warned.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has today launched a public consultation on the use of gene editing on both livestock and arable crops.

Gene editing (GE) is slightly different from genetic modification (GM). While the latter involves inserting new genes into a DNA strand, GE involves the cutting and removing of undesirable parts of genes.

Neither technology is allowed under EU law, which classifies both as genetic modification. However, Brexit means the UK no longer needs to "slavishly follow" those "notoriously restrictive and politicised" restrictions, according to Environment Secretary George Eustice.

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The Defra consultation is likely to mean England will open itself up to GE food. Boris Johnson vowed on his first day as Prime Minister to “liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules”.

The National: Boris Johnson waves outside 10 Downing Street after meeting the Queen and accepting her invitation to become Prime MinisterBoris Johnson waves outside 10 Downing Street after meeting the Queen and accepting her invitation to become Prime Minister

Although the consultation is explicitly not UK-wide, the Internal Market Bill’s “non-discrimination clause” means that Scotland’s Government will be powerless to bar goods produced in England from being sold north of the Border.

Scottish Rural Affairs Minister Ben Macpherson said this “is an example of why we believe the UK Internal Market Act removes our competency to make decisions on the marketing of products in a devolved area”.

Macpherson said his Government’s “policy on the cultivation of GM crops has not changed”, adding: “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.

“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.”

The Scottish Greens also hit out at the UK Government, saying it had taken “less than a week” for the Tories in London to “launch a dangerous deregulatory agenda”.

Scottish Greens food and farming spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP added: “Opening a fresh pandora’s box of corporately controlled genetic modification will not benefit Scottish agriculture.”

The National: Green MSP Mark Ruskell warned the UK Tories were pursuing a 'dangerous deregulatory agenda'Green MSP Mark Ruskell warned the UK Tories were pursuing a 'dangerous deregulatory agenda'

In doing so Ruskell echoed The Soil Association (SA), which also warned that Brexit shouldn't be used "to pursue a deregulatory agenda".

Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use policy at the SA, said: "Gene editing is a 'sticking plaster' - diverting vital investment and attention from farmer-driven action and research which could be yielding results, right now.

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"Consumers and farmers who do not want to eat or grow genetically modified crops or animals need to be offered adequate protection from this. The focus needs to be on how to restore exhausted soils, improve diversity in cropping, integrate livestock into rotations and reduce dependence on synthetic nitrogen and pesticides."

The creators of the first GE tool, known as Crispr-Cas9 "genetic scissors", Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, were last year awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery. The development was hailed as "revolutionary".

Other voices in the industry welcomed the UK Government’s plans, with the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) president, Andrew McCornick, saying: “As the UK has now left the EU, there is an important opportunity for our regulators to take an open-minded approach to the possibilities presented by these world-leading technologies, as a potentially significant means of crop and livestock improvement.”

However, McCornick added: “Any significant divergence in approach to gene editing [in England] would have implications for the UK Internal Market and, therefore, the effectiveness or otherwise of Common Frameworks and/or the UK Internal Market Bill.”