Viewpoint: Conservatives say UK could break from ‘outdated’ EU GMO, CRISPR regulations if they sweep ’Brexit election’

On the 12th of December, the United Kingdom will hold a general election. With the UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) remaining unresolved, tensions are as high as ever. Once out of the EU, though, the UK could regain full control over its laws and regulations.

Though the election debate has centered around immigration, security and healthcare, the question of what direction the UK should take in terms of science policy persists. Will the UK manage to unleash the potential of its biotechnological sector and become a global advocate for innovation and consumer choice, or will it retain the EU’s antiquated approach?

In a manifesto released in November, the Conservatives pledged to take the path of “science-led, evidence-based policy” to improve the quality of food, agriculture and land management. Previously, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to liberate the UK’s biotech sector from the EU’s anti-genetic modification rules.

Image: iStock/Zerbor

The laws that concern genetically modified organisms in the UK are primarily based on European Union regulations. For years, the EU has backpedaled on agricultural innovation, preventing European consumers from accessing biologically enhanced food. This can be seen in the very limited number of genetically modified crops authorized for cultivation in the EU, and a very cumbersome and expensive process of importing genetically modified crops from other countries. In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided that gene-edited plants should be regulated the same way that genetically modified organisms are regulated, rendering them practically illegal and hindering innovation even further.

If the UK chooses to move away from these EU-based regulations as a consequence of Brexit, it could become a forward-looking global biotech powerhouse.

The first step would be to replace fear-based skepticism of genetic modification with an evidence-based, pro-innovation approach. Despite popular rhetoric, there is no substantial scientific evidence behind the alleged health and environmental risks ascribed to GM products. Abandoning these baseless assertions and creating and sustaining the conditions under which UK farmers could innovate, lower their production costs, and use fewer chemicals would be an enterprising move on the part of the UK government.

Approving GM pest-resistant crops, for instance, could save about £60 million ($79 million) a year in pesticide use in the UK. Moreover, £60 million in savings would mean more leeway for competitive food pricing in a country where prices at the grocery store are rising 2 percent annually.

Once restrictive genetic modification laws are relaxed, it would be necessary to enable easy market access for GM foods. Under current EU legislation, products containing GMOs need to be labeled as such, and the requirements also apply to non-prepacked foods. It is legally established that such products (soy, for example) not only require written documentation but also should have an easily readable notice about their origin. No such rule exists with regards to foods that are 100% GMO-free, meaning there is explicit discrimination in place giving GMO-free food an unfair advantage on the market.

The EU’s strict regulations on the use of GM technology have been, first and foremost, harmful to consumers, depriving them access to innovative options such as Impossible Foods’ plant-based burger, which so closely mimics meat thanks to an ingredient produced with the help of genetically engineered yeast. Vastly popular in the US and now expanding to Asia, vegan burgers using plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products, are absent from the European market due to backwards-looking anti-GM rules.

The United Kingdom should strive for the smartest regulation in the field of approval and market access to GMOs. Relaxed regulations on gene-editing methods like CRISPR-Cas9 could also attract massive investment and lead to wide-reaching biotech innovation in the UK.

Enabling gene-editing is an essential part of unleashing scientific innovation in the United Kingdom after Brexit. Skepticism of gene-editing centers around the potential but largely exaggerated adverse effects of the technology and ignores the astonishing benefits that could accrue to both farmers and consumers.

If the UK manages to replace the EU’s overly cautious biotech rules with a pro-innovation and prosperity-fostering regulatory scheme, it could become a true global biotech powerhouse. This is an ambitious, exciting, and above all, achievable future.

Open Letter on Climate Change

Open Letter on Climate Change:

Dear Executive Vice-President Timmermans, 

On behalf of the Consumer Choice Center, the consumer advocacy group representing and empowering consumers in the EU and globally, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment. We wholeheartedly share your determination to find the most sustainable and consumer-friendly solution to the climate change dilemma and hope our perspective on the matter would be valuable.

While we welcome your ambition to reduce carbon emissions in Europe by 2050, we also believe that every policy should also be considered through the lens of consumer choice and affordability. The world, as we know it now, wouldn’t be possible if innovation was prevented from running its course and making our lives longer, safer and more prosperous. 

All too often the unlimited potential of innovation to help solve the issue of climate change is dismissed to the detriment of European consumers. Being able to freely choose between a train ride and a flight, or between gene-modified and organic foods is crucial. Well-intended policies tend to fall prey to popular rhetoric turning a blind eye to alternative solutions. The entrepreneurial spirit is an essential part of our European culture, and it’s about time we channeled it into the global fight against climate change.

We should stay united, sensible and considerate in our efforts to tackle climate change. Whereas taxes and bans might seem like good solutions, their direct and tangible impact on consumers and their ability to choose cannot be ignored.

We believe that the key issues the European policymakers should take into account centre around food supply, mobility and energy.

Embracing innovation in agriculture, mobility and energy sectors is a great way to combat climate change.



With the world’s population expected to reach almost ten billion by 2050, and innately limited natural resources facing new environmental challenges, the situation can hardly be regarded as positive. If we look beyond popular solutions, we will find that there are many more ways to approach the issue. Innovation in agriculture is one of them. 

Organic farming is appealing because it’s “natural” and is, therefore, associated with higher food safety, but it can potentially do more harm than good if we choose to stick to it. In 2017, researchers at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland estimated that if the world chose to fully convert to organic agriculture, we would need between 16 and 81% more land to feed the planet. The overreliance on limited natural resources, as in the case of organic farming, is significantly more dangerous than taxes. 

The European Union has traditionally objected to most innovations in food science and prevented European consumers from accessing biologically-enhanced food. This can be seen in the very limited number of genetically modified crops authorised for cultivation in the EU, and a very cumbersome and expensive process of importing genetically modified food and a recent European Court of Justice ruling against gene editing.

However, there is no substantial scientific evidence of the health and environmental risks ascribed to GM products. With the help of gene engineering, we would be able to decrease our dependence on natural resources and minimise the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Creating drought and heat-tolerant crops would ensure we don’t need to deforest wild areas to free up more land for agricultural purposes.

In order to unleash the potential of gene modification and help it mitigate the environmental challenges we have to face, it is also essential that the EU creates fair and equitable conditions for GMO-free and GM foods.

Under the existing EU legislation, all food which contains greater than 0.9% of approved GMOs must be labeled as such. No such rule exists with regards to foods that are 100% GMO-free, proving that there is explicit discrimination in place giving GMO-free food an unfair advantage on the market. 

Gene modification should excite us as it would allow us to address the issue of climate change in a smart way. 

Our recommendations:

  • Reassess the existing EU regulations on the grounds of potential gains and benefits for the consumer rather than simply based on popularised threats not based in fact.
  • Ensure fair and equitable market conditions for GM and GM-free foods.


Recently, nine EU finance ministers called for a European aviation tax as a means to cut emissions from flying. Similar schemes, such as a 7-euro EU-wide flight tax, have been suggested in the past, but haven’t had any political success mainly due to the opposition from countries such as Malta, Cyprus and Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Ireland, and Croatia due to the fact that they are hugely dependent on tourism.

Every tax imposed on airlines ends up hurting consumers without solving the climate change dilemma, especially in the long run.

The liberalisation of air travel within Europe and the emergence of low cost carriers and massive competition within the airline industry have allowed millions of European to use planes for either leisure or economic activities.

Economic migrants and commuters from Eastern Europe can visit their families more often and more cities are connected to the rest of the continent. Assuming that European taxes would move more of these travel patterns to rail neglects the realities of European rail networks and actual distances to travel. Passengers flying from Bucharest to Brussels will hardly be able to use buses or trains for this journey.

Saving the environment is as important to airlines as it to each and every one of us. The aviation industry has been making consistent efforts to use less fuel. Giving innovative technologies such as new materials and fuel saving engines a chance doesn’t usually come to mind as a possible solution, while its potential to help us cut the emissions would actually have a significant impact. For example, Airbus’ new A321XLR. has 30% less kerosene consumption per passenger, while adding 30% more range than the currently used A321neo. 

Our recommendation:

  • Do not impose additional taxes on airlines at the expense of European consumers and let innovation take its course.
  • Do not discriminate against existing and well-established technologies such as the internal combustion engine. Technology neutrality has to be maintained in both, type of engine and mode of transportation.
European Council


There is a wide agreement between policymakers, activists and the public that reducing carbon emissions is key to fighting climate change. Taxing polluters tops the list of the most popular solutions. We, as a consumer group, are concerned that as long as there is no viable and affordable alternative, additional taxation of carbon would only hurt consumers. All carbon taxes are usually passed on to the consumer and thus should be avoided.

As the debate on how to decarbonise Europe carries on, it is about time the discourse stopped turning its back on the astounding advantages of nuclear energy. Aside from being fully carbon-free, nuclear is also one of the safest energy sources. It also keeps the air clean contributing to the overall wellbeing. Between 1995 and 2016, the US could have emitted 14,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide more without nuclear. 

Popular scepticism surrounding nuclear isn’t backed up scientifically. Multiple studies concluded that the risks of accidents in nuclear plants are low and have been declining. 

Embracing nuclear power will help us address climate change in a sustainable and consumer-friendly fashion. France and Sweden, who now emit less than a tenth of the world average of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour, are prime examples of decarbonisation through nuclear. They achieved this by recognising and embracing nuclear power. Opting for nuclear has made France and Sweden “greener” and led to a decrease in the price of electricity. On the other hand, Germany and Denmark, with their over reliance on renewable energy, have the highest energy prices in Europe.

European policymakers ought to provide a framework in which innovation and new technologies can make consumers’ lives easier and more affordable. In order to achieve this, the Commission should embrace technology neutrality instead of trying to predict what technologies would prevail in the future and favouring some above the rest. Effective energy market policies do not pretend to have all the answers: they create fair and equitable market conditions that let consumers and innovators coordinate in the marketplace and achieve their desired goals. 

For the sake of consumer choice and future innovation, European policymakers need to strictly adhere to technology neutrality and not pick winners of contests that are still ahead of us.

Our recommendations:

  • Recognise and embrace the possibilities to reduce carbon emissions by nuclear power.
  • Stay technology neutral and create a fair and equitable environment in which innovators can continue to innovate and compete on the same terms; do not pick winners and losers ahead of time.
  • Do not burden consumers with new taxes on energy.

Throughout history, innovation has always been the key driver of human progress and ever expanding prosperity. Innovation can become the best solution to the climate change issue too.

We are hopeful that European policymakers will choose to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit instead of taking the path of bans and other restrictions. The beauty of consumer-driven innovation is that it comes naturally through the marketplace. Consumers value their ability to choose and creating market conditions under which they are able to switch to more environment-friendly options is crucial.

Fighting climate change might seem like an uphill battle and preserving consumer choice and affordability on this journey is extremely challenging. The EU can become a global pioneer of innovation in agriculture, mobility and energy sectors if we stay united, sensible and considerate in the face of climate change. 

We would be delighted to elaborate further on the suggested policy recommendations.


Fred Roeder
Managing Director
Consumer Choice Center

#Environment needs saving through innovation, not starvation

As the winter times come closer, people resume their arguments about the thermostat at home. While there is great convenience that comes with heating, it also comes at an environmental cost. Environmental protection and development are, undoubtedly, both a necessary and noble cause, and while we may sometimes disagree with the fearmongering or reactionism that comes with eco-politics, it’s a wonderful thing to see consumer preferences gravitate towards greener alternatives, writes Bill Wirtz.

It is through changes in consumer attitudes that force innovations to become safer, more sustainable, and just generally ‘green-er’. The same however also applies to price: as companies attempt to reduce prices, their incentives force them towards the use of less energy. This is what we’ve seen happen to cars, which have seen fuel efficiency double since the 70s, or air travel, which has seen 45% less fuel burn since the 1960s.

The beauty of consumer-driven innovation is that it comes naturally through the marketplace. In the area of food, we’ve seen immense strives towards safer, more affordable, and less energy-consuming crops. With current agro-tech innovations, like through gene-editing, this becomes a promising prospect. However, the political world seems unimpressed with innovation, and more interested in reacting to fear-mongering. Nowhere are the dangerous effects of this felt more than in the developing world. Advanced countries with good intentions ignore the needs and abilities of poorer nations in the name of pretended environmental protection.

Take, for instance, a recent conference, jointly held in Kenya by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Preservation Center. The ‘First International Conference on Agroecology Transforming Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa’ aims to implement the policies of ‘Agroecology’ throughout the continent.

The “agroecology” touted by the conference refers to a more ‘organic’ style of farming, one that is free (or, at least, less dependent upon) synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. In many parts of Africa, where this conference had its attention, this could have devastating. It should come as no surprise that agroecological methods of farming are, typically far less efficient than the modern, mechanised alternative (a conclusion reached in a study performed by agroecological advocates).

On a continent that has long been plagued with poor economic growth and, far more seriously, severe famines and food shortages, taking the risk of switching to less-productive methods in the name of the environment would be blind to the necessities of a developing economy. Viewed simply, one could easily label this worldview and prescription as arrogant. If people in developed countries (or anywhere else for that matter) wish to establish an organic, agroecological farm to promote a more environmentally-friendly system, then more power to them. But we simply cannot expect this to apply to developing countries such as those in Africa. Bringing sustainable practices and technologies to the developing world should be achieved through increased scientific innovation, stimulating economic growth and development.

Following Brexit, the UK will be in an ideal position to do this without the restraints of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and biotech regulations, which has made trade with farmers in developing countries, as well innovative crops domestically, impossible to achieve. While the hearts of those arguing for “agroecology” are certainly in the right place, we need to understand that their suggestions threaten the chances of developing economies to grow and develop.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Greenpeace verbreitet seit Jahrzehnten über GVO Unwahrheiten

Eine neue EU-Bürgerinitiative fordert einen modernisierten Zulassungsprozess wissenschaftlicher Innovationen in der Landwirtschaft. Diese europaweite studentische Initiative verdient es gehört und unterstützt zu werden.

Am 25. Juli registrierte die Europäische Kommission die Bürgerinitiative “Grow Scientific Progress: Crops Matter!” Zwei Studentinnen wurden als Vertreter genannt: Martina Helmlinger und Lavinia Scudiero. Helmlinger steht kurz vor dem Abschluss ihres Masters in Lebensmittelsicherheit am Institut für Lebensmittelwissenschaften und -technologie der Universität für Bodenkultur in Wien und verfügt über einen Bachelor-Abschluss in Biotechnologie. Scudiero hat einen Abschluss in Veterinärmedizin und absolviert derzeit einen Master in Lebensmittelsicherheit, Lebensmittelrecht und Regulierung an der Universität Wageningen.

Die beiden Studentinnen argumentieren in der Beschreibung der Initiative, dass die EU-Richtlinie 2001/18/EG, die sich mit GBO (genetisch veränderten Organismen) befasst, veraltet ist, und schlagen einen automatischen Mechanismus zur Überprüfung dieser Regeln vor. Ziel ist es, die langwierigen und kostspieligen Zulassungsverfahren für landwirtschaftliche Innovationen zu entschlacken und mehr wissenschaftlichen Fortschritt in der EU zu ermöglichen.

Individuelle Bewertungen, bei denen einzelnen Technologien auf ihre Eigenschaften bewertet werden – im Gegensatz zu weit gefassten Definitionen – tragen dazu bei, dass neue Technologien auf den Markt kommen.

Marcel Kuntz, Forschungsdirektor am CNRS, Zell- und Pflanzenphysiologielabor in Grenoble erklärt, dass die grüne Gentechnik ist kein landwirtschaftlicher Produktionsmodus, sondern ein Mittel zur Steigerung der Biodiversität sei. Er fügt hinzu, dass es wichtig sei, was mit einem Produkt gemacht wird, nicht, wie das Produkt gewonnen wurde. Kuntz beklagt sich auch über Angriffe auf Wissenschaftler und “politische Kämpfe”, die definieren, was als sicher gilt und was nicht.

Die Debatte über Innovationen in der Landwirtschaft wurde der Wissenschaft von PR-Profis  aus der Hand gerissen. Diese Kommunikationsprofis aus Politik und Umweltverbänden tun alles, um technologische Innovationen ohne Beweise zu verleumden. Dies betrifft sogar die Öffentlichkeitsarbeit der EU-Institutionen und war jedes Mal sichtbar, wenn die Frage der GVO angesprochen wurde. Insbesondere im Hinblick auf die Schaffung neuer Gesetze kann dies beobachtet werden.

Auf der Website des Europäischen Parlaments “Legislative Train Schedule” sollen Richtlinien und deren gesetzlicher Ablauf neutral erläutert werden. Es ist ein steuerfinanziertes Instrument, dass den Bürgern Informationen auf unparteiische Weise vermitteln soll.

Das ist aber nicht immer der Fall. In Zusammenfassung der Richtlinie (EU) 2015/412, Änderung der Richtlinie 2001/18/EG,  die Mitgliedstaaten ermächtigt GVOs unabhängig von neuen Erkenntnissen verbieten zu dürfen, heißt es:

“Das Europäische Parlament hat auch darauf bestanden, dass die Mitgliedstaaten, in denen GVO-Kulturen angebaut werden, eine grenzüberschreitende Kontamination vermeiden sollten, indem sie Pufferzonen entlang ihrer Grenzen zu benachbarten Mitgliedstaaten einrichten, in denen GVO nicht angebaut werden”.

Die Sprache ist gelinde gesagt tendenziös.

Die Wahrheit ist, dass Organisationen wie Greenpeace seit Jahrzehnten über GVO Unwahrheiten verbreiten. Sie sagen, dass GVO “inakzeptable Risiken” darstellen, ohne auf wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse hinzuweisen, die dieses Risiko untermauern.

“GVO-Kulturen haben in der nachhaltigen Landwirtschaft keinen Platz. Sie bergen unannehmbare Risiken, die durch den gentechnischen Prozess und die Eigenschaften, für die sie entwickelt wurden, entstehen”, heißt es von Greenpeace.

Dieselben Organisationen, die dafür gesorgt haben, dass in der EU GVOs fast komplett nicht-existent sind, versuchen die gleiche Takte beim Genome-Editing. Mit Erfolg. Erst kürzlich erklärte der Europäische Gerichtshof Genome-Editing und GVO also gleichwertig (aus einer Regulierungsperspektive). Greenpeace nannte Genome-Editing “GVO durch die Hintertür”.

Der Leiter der Europäischen Behörde für Lebensmittelsicherheit (EFSA), Dr. Bernhard Url, meint, dass nur weil einem die Ergebnisse nicht gefallen, man die Wissenschaft selbst kritisieren sollte. Er fügt hinzu: “Wenn die Wissenschaft nur noch eine weitere Meinung wird, die zugunsten des Aberglaubens übersehen werden kann, birgt dies ein enormes Risiko für die Gesellschaft”.

Er hat Recht. Genome-Editing bietet der Pflanzenzüchtung mehrere Vorteile, z.B. durch die Herstellung allergenfreier Lebensmittel. Stellen Sie sich die immense Veränderung für Menschen vor, die von potenziell lebensbedrohlichen Allergien betroffen sind, wenn es uns gelingt, allergenfreie Erdnüsse oder glutenfreien Weizen herzustellen. Diese Anwendungen gehen jedoch über den Bereich der Landwirtschaft hinaus. Genome-Editing kann helfen, das Zika-Virus zu bekämpfen, die Übertragung von Malaria zu verhindern, Leukämie zu heilen und zeigt vielversprechende Forschungsergebnisse in den Bereichen Alzheimer, Huntington, Gebärmutterhals- und Lungenkrebs.

Die Genschere läuft allerdings Gefahr, Opfer der gleichen unwissenschaftlichen Angstmache zu werden wie GVOs in der Vergangenheit. Mal wieder innovieren andere Kontinente, während Europa sich in ein technologisches Mittelalter begibt, und sogar die Entmechanisierung der Landwirtschaft vorantreibt.

Die Initiative Grow Scientific Progress verdient Unterstützung. Die Europäische Union muss sich der Innovation öffnen, um mit den spannenden Möglichkeiten von morgen Schritt zu halten.

Artikel hier veröffentlicht.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Synthetic farm chemicals boost harvest

“Agroecology as a political doctrine has no place in science-based policy discourse, and its promotion – given the scientific knowledge we have to today – is immoral. It needs to be stopped,” said Bill Wirtz, a policy analyst.

Read more here

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