The UK Government is “hurriedly pursuing post-Brexit deregulation” with its Bill on gene-editing in the food sector, Scotland’s Environment Minister has said.
Mairi McAllan responded to questions in Holyrood on Tuesday on her approach to gene editing.
The Conservatives say her opposition to gene editing goes against scientific consensus and accused her of “simply waiting for the EU” to make a decision.
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill was introduced earlier this month at Westminster and would create a separate regulatory category for gene editing – a practice which can change traits within a plant or animal much more quickly than traditional selective breeding.
Officials and scientists draw a distinction between gene editing, which involves the manipulation of genes within a single species or genus, and genetic modification, in which DNA from one species is introduced to another.
She said: “The use of genetic technologies is a complex and emotive area.
“Indeed, the UK government’s own public consultation last year saw the public reject the changes that they are now pursuing.
“So, while I am closely following scientific and other considerations on the decoupling of genetic modification and editing, our position hasn’t changed.”
Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton said the minister was conflating the issues of gene editing and GMOs.
Referring to comments from Professor Anne Glover, she said: “The minister would seemingly prefer to wait for the EU to tell them what to do.
“But surely when their own former chief scientific adviser says that they’re out of kilter with scientific evidence, does the minister not agree that she should have a serious rethink on the SNP’s position and stop holding our farmers back?”
Ms McAllan said she held Prof Glover “in the highest regard”.
She said she would consider not just the scientific implications but also the economic, ethical and philosophical issues as well.
The minister said: “Those are exactly the issues that I am considering.
“Unlike the UK Government, who are hurriedly pursuing this post-Brexit deregulation.”
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