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Independent.ie

Saturday 21 April 2018

Genetically-modified animals could be sold in UK after Brexit, says Michael Gove

Dolly the first cloned sheep. PA
Dolly the first cloned sheep. PA
Dolly the first genetically cloned sheep

Jack Maidment

Genetically-modified animals could be sold in the UK after Brexit, Michael Gove has said.

The Environment Secretary said that “bio-tech changes” are coming which will “challenge us to think about the future” as he suggested gene editing could be used to create “more valuable livestock”.

But he admitted that the science was still “in its infancy” and that its use would raise “political and moral questions”.

Meanwhile, he also revealed the Government intends to create a new “gold-standard” for food labelling to signify British quality after Brexit.

Mr Gove made the claims as he announced plans to reward farmers for opening up the countryside to the public and enhancing the natural environment after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

He also set out proposals to replace existing EU subsidies with a system that pays farmers to increase public access to the UK’s countrysie.

Outlining his plans for a “green Brexit”, Mr Gove suggested that after Brexit the UK would have the opportunity to take advantage of new technologies which have the potential to dramatically change the way the nation produces food.

In a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, he said: "These technological breakthroughs raise political and moral questions as we consider how we deal with the transformation of a huge range of existing jobs.

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“And alongside these changes in the world of information technology there are bio-tech changes coming which also challenge us to think about the future, and how best to shape it.

“Gene editing technology could help us to remove vulnerabilities to illness, develop higher yielding crops or more valuable livestock, indeed potentially even allow mankind to conquer the diseases to which we are vulnerable."

Mr Gove said gene editing - a form of genetic engineering which involves changing or removing parts of an organism's DNA - could allow farmers to “accelerate the process of breeding and evolution” to create a better quality of livestock.

"I alluded to the fact that gene editing in the future could provide all sorts of opportunities,” he said during a question and answer session after his speech.

“The science is still in its infancy but I do think it's important that we regard gene editing as a means of science helping us to do faster what farmers have been doing for generations, which is essentially accelerate the process of breeding and evolution.

“I think we should have an open mind about that technology and not allow debates from the past to influence how we look at that technology."

The Environment Secretary said that when people buy British produce “they’re buying food which is guaranteed to be high quality” and that the Government could do more to help underwrite that reputation.

He said: “Which is why I want us, outside the EU, to develop new approaches to food labelling.

“Not just badging food properly as British, but also creating a new gold-standard metric for food and farming quality.”

There are already food marks to show quality like the Red Tractor scheme but Mr Gove said “there’s still no single, scaled, measure”.

He said: “We’ve been in discussion with a number of farmers and food producers about how we might advance such a scheme and I think that, outside the EU, we could establish a measure of farm and food quality which would be world-leading.”

Mr Gove’s plan for a “green Brexit” will mean farmers being rewarded for planting woodlands, turning fields into meadows and creating new natural habitats for the UK’s wildlife.

It will also spell the end of the EU's "perverse" Common Agricultural Policy that pays farmers for the land they own rather than what they do with it.

Mr Gove also used his speech to made a joke at his own expense as he commented on Government efforts to help people make healthy eating choices. 

“Looking at my own waistline I should bear in mind that it is incumbent on he who talks about dietary sins to lose the first stone,” he said.


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