THE devolved nations have been warned that trucks of genetically edited (GE) food “are going to roll across the borders” as England looks to legalise the technology post-Brexit.

Although the regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is devolved, the Internal Market Bill’s “non-discrimination clause” means that Holyrood, the Senedd, and Stormont will be powerless to bar GE goods produced in England from being sold within their borders.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a consultation on a law change around GMOs in early January, but campaigners say the Government has “already made its mind up”.

“I know that in Northern Ireland and Scotland … people there quite rightly think ‘well this is happening in England it doesn’t really affect me’, but actually, those trucks are going to roll across the borders. It is coming,” Shane Holland, the executive chair of the UK board of worldwide campaign group Slow Food, told The National.

READ MORE: Scotland may be 'forced' to sell GM food as England looks to post-Brexit law change

“It is scandalous. I say that as a non-Scot. And [GMOs] will be in Europe for the same reason. It will go into Northern Ireland and once it’s in Northern Ireland it will cross the border and it will be Europe-wide. It’s going to be everywhere,” he added.

Asked if the Northern Ireland protocol’s article 16 may be used to introduce checks to prevent the export of GE food to Europe, Holland said: “The barrier issue in Northern Ireland is really interesting because we believe that the food won’t be labelled ... if there’s no labelling then you would literally have to genetic test every item of food. That’s going to be impossible.”

The Slow Food UK chair said there is “real concern” in Europe around this.

The National: Environment Secretary George Eustice has expressed firm support for GEOsEnvironment Secretary George Eustice has expressed firm support for GEOs

Defra has neither confirmed nor denied that there will be no labelling of GE foods should the law be changed to allow their sale and production in England. A spokesperson said they are currently “gathering views on the implications for labelling”.

Holland also hit out at the ongoing consultation process, saying that the process is “flawed” and accusing the Government of failing to follow its own rules.

Westminster’s consultation principles, published in 2018, state that the process should not be launched for “issues on which [ministers] already have a final view”.

Holland said: “Defra has already stated what they wish to happen. They’ve already stated what they believe all the benefits to be, so I would suggest that there is not so much of a consultation happening. They’ve already made their mind up. The process is flawed. They’re not following their own rules.”

READ MORE: Westminster 'breaking own rules' with genetically modified food consultation

A Defra spokesperson said the consultation “seeks to understand the impacts of our proposal not to regulate GE organisms as GMOs”.

GE is slightly different from 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.

Several top Tories, including Environment Secretary George Eustice and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have already made clear their support for the introduction of GEOs in England with Brexit meaning the UK need not “slavishly follow” EU law.

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A Defra spokesperson said: “GE has the potential to breed disease resistance into crops and animals more efficiently and swiftly than is possible using traditional breeding methods.

“We want UK researchers and commercial breeders to be at the forefront of exploring what this technology has to offer and for farmers to have access to the best products available.”

Holland told The National that these lines are the same as proponents of GMOs had used “since these technologies existed”.

READ MORE: Don’t let the definition of ‘genetically modified’ be altered

He said that “largely and historically” GM technology has instead been used to give immunity to specific herbicides and pesticides, allowing the indiscriminate “blanket bombing” of agricultural land with potentially poisonous chemicals.

GE technology is being used in the US to push for “nightmarish” scenarios where pigs are made without tails, or cows without horns, in order to allow for more intense, industrialised farming.

“I can’t say any of this is definitely going to happen [in the UK],” he cautioned, “but this is the kind of thing we have seen up until now.”

Defra said there would be “no weakening of our strong food safety standards” as a result of their plans to allow GE in England, and said they “continue to keep up a very strong dialogue with the devolved administrations”.

The Defra consultation will run to March 17, 2021. Information on how to submit your views can be found here.