1st September 2023
OF&G PRESS RELEASE
The passing of the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023 earlier this year gave a green light to pesticide and biotech companies to develop and release genetically edited microbes, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi found in soil, with the claim of enhancing agricultural capabilities.
Already being commercially used across farmland in the US, OF&G’s chief executive, Roger Kerr, believes the emergence of a genetic editing (GE) approach to altering essential biology raises huge practical and ethical concerns under the guise of what he describes as ‘regenerative greenwashing’.
“We’re all now well versed in the damage caused by traditional pesticides and fertilisers that were marketed as ‘completely safe’. The same level of corporate involvement in promoting these new genetically edited (GE) so called ‘precision-bred organisms’ (PBOs) is frankly terrifying,” he says.
“We must be extremely circumspect about their use given pesticide businesses’ have a reputation for turning a blind eye to environmental and health impacts, resisting regulation, and monopolising agricultural practices.”
“Regenerative farming is not regulated and is wide-open to unscrupulous commercialisation, with pesticide companies now claiming leadership while indicating that these GE microbes (or ‘biologicals’ as they prefer to call them) are in fact just add-ons rather than replacements to their other environmentally damaging products.”
The report references a ‘green wall of silence’ associated with the extreme lack of transparency and regulation in the application of GE microbes. A silence illustrated by the UK Government’s refusal to implement clear labelling on foods that use GE products.
Soil health is essential for food production and climate resilience, with billions of microbial species being fundamental to maintaining the process. However, scientists currently understand little or nothing of over 99% them nor do they understand their complex interrelationships with other living organisms.
“Without a strong regulatory framework to assess the long-term outcomes of introducing GE microbes, the unintended consequences could be catastrophic. If things do go wrong, it’s almost impossible to detect these organisms, let alone retrieve them,” Mr Kerr adds.
“To reverse climate change and biodiversity loss, we need a transformational shift. Adding GE microbes to an already failing industrial farming system by tricking them to act more like chemicals doesn’t harness the true power of the natural world, it further perverts and violates it.
“The FOE report clearly and repeatedly advocates for organic farming practices which it states are already scientifically proven to ‘achieve the benefits that proponents of GE microbes claim for the technology’.
“If we blindly pursue the GE dream and fail to call out the barefaced regenerative greenwashing in the sector, we risk unleashing an irreversible disaster. If we are to truly meet the challenges ahead there must be a massive shift towards genuine sustainable farming practices with strong and clear ethical and environmental protection for us all,” Mr Kerr concludes.
Following the publication of a recent letter reflecting our concerns outlined in the above press release that was published in the farming press (Farmers Weekly, 8 September 2023) we received an email from ‘Science in Sustainable Agriculture’ claiming that the letter was factually incorrect. We refute this - see below.
OF&G STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO SCIENCE FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Organic Farmers & Growers (OF&G) categorically refutes Science for Sustainable Agriculture’s claim that OF&G has spread ‘misinformation’ about genetically engineered soil microbes.
OF&G stands by its statement that the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act gives a green light to pesticide and biotech companies to develop and release genetically edited (GE) microbes.
The Act not only removes regulatory control from ‘Precision Bred’ plants and animals but also removes such control from almost all types of genetically engineered crops and foods.
The wording is such that the Act is open to interpretation. The prescriptions within it are ill-defined and the anticipated secondary legislation (that could offer greater clarity) has yet to materialise.
Throughout the legislative process this Act has met considerable resistance. As shown in public records, notable geneticists have been thwarted in their efforts to support policymakers in finding robust, unequivocal wording:
It is the absolute lack of transparency and guardrails within the Act that causes OF&G and numerous respected scientists and institutions such concern and why the introduction of strong regulatory framework is paramount.
Notes to editors:
Issued by: Naomi Hurst, Pinstone
e: email@example.com t: 01568 617624
OF&G is one of the largest control bodies in the UK, certifying over 50% of UK organic land and operating across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.
OF&G has more than 40 years’ experience in the organic sector and is the longest established Defra-approved organic control body. The company’s headquarters are in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.