The adoption of gene editing (GE) technology in agriculture could put jobs at risk, warns Unite the Union.
The union has urged caution over the use of GE technology following moves by both the UK Government and European Commission to review its use.
Last week the European Commission launched a review into EU laws governing GE technology, while the UK Government’s Environment Secretary George Eustice launched a consultation on its use in January.
Unite’s national officer for food, drink and agriculture, Bev Clarkson, said promises about the perceived benefits of GE technology – including pesticide reduction and plants being adapted for climate change – were also made by companies pushing the first generation of genetically modified (GM) crops.
“Those promises failed to materialise then and are now being made in relation to gene editing by many of the same agri-tech multinationals,” added Ms Clarkson.
“These companies have proved time and time again that their quest for market dominance obliterates labour or environmental rights regardless of where they operate.”
She said there may be some legitimate benefits to GE in agriculture, but Unite members across the food industry – from farming to manufacturing – were “deeply concerned” about the technology’s potential impact on the environment, consumer health and jobs.
“Despite both the UK and the EU seemingly heading in the same direction on gene editing, we also have concerns that changes to regulatory regimes could lead to trading barriers that hurt the British food industry and ultimately impact our members’ jobs,” added Ms Clarkson.
“We call on the UK Government to deliver a cast iron guarantee that this will not happen.”
Farming union NFU Scotland supports the adoption of GE technology and says it is needed to help Scottish farmers and crofters meet climate change targets.
The union’s crops policy manager, David Michie, said GE technology is different from GM because it does not involve adding genes from different organisms.
He said: “In the 21st Century, a new breeding revolution can help address the biggest challenges of our time, the biggest one right now being climate change.
“There are a lot of things that need to be done to address the challenges we now face, and GE is a tool that should be taken out and used to move forward to a net-zero future.”
The Scottish Government has previously spoken against the use of GE technology, however Fergus Ewing – who served as Rural Economy Secretary in the previous Scottish Government – hinted towards a change in the SNP’s stance towards the technology.
Mr Ewing recently told an NFU Scotland online hustings that he accepted there was a difference between GE and GM – which is currently banned in Scotland – and said “we should keep a watching brief on science”.