Last week, environment secretary George Eustice announced a 10-week consultation into enabling the use of gene-edited crops and livestock in England.
Declan McAleer, Sinn Féin MLA, warned the consultation was a worrying indication that food production rules would be changing.
“What Britain appears intent on doing is removing restrictions on GMO plants where the hybrid plant, even if it was created in a lab, could technically have been created through natural breeding methods,” said McAleer.
“This differs from EU rules and Britain may very soon be producing or importing food which was created using methods not authorised in the EU.”
He argued that the potential change of standards would make it more difficult for NI producers – who, under the NI agreement, are forced to apply EU rules for exports – to compete in the British market. Greater divergence would also create additional challenges for Sanitary and Phytosanitary checks at the ports.
‘Disastrous consequence of Brexit’
“This is another potentially disastrous consequence of Brexit which could result in disruption to our export volumes to the British market and cause serious economic damage to local agrifood businesses,” McAleer added.
Food and Drink Federation chief scientific officer, Kate Halliwell, was supportive of the Government’s consultation, so long as consideration was made to prevent disruption to trade with the EU.
“We previously urged the Government to launch this consultation to ensure that all the tools needed by our industry would remain on the table for consideration,” said Halliwell.
“Divergence from European regulations could impact trade to the EU and also needs to be considered by Government in parallel to the clear opportunity such a technology presents.”