United Kingdom

Brexit opens up British biotech bonanza

The authors, Fred Roeder, Maria Chaplia, and Bill Wirtz, emphasise how timely the note is given Brexit approaching its final stage and Boris Johnson’s ambition to ‘liberate the UK’s bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules’.

“Revolutionising the UK biotech sector by allowing it to utilise the latest developments of genetic engineering in food production and healthcare is only possible if the existing restrictions are relieved and replaced with a more pro-consumer, pro-innovation, and prosperity-fostering approach,” said CCC managing director Mr Roeder.

“Driven by a noble aim ‘to protect human health and the environment and ensure consumer choice’, the strict legislation on GM products in the UK has, however, failed to recognise the advantages of gene modification and how it could benefit consumers. This foregone opportunity to encourage the progress of the UK biotech sector has left the UK far behind numerous countries,” added Ms Chaplia.

Mr Wirtz ventured: “GM pest-resistant crops could save about £60 million a year in pesticide use in the UK. This would be much welcomed by UK farmers and consumers. Moreover, £60 million in savings means more leeway for competitive food pricing within the country. With food prices in the EU rising by 2% annually, the UK could prove that food can become cheaper by more than just dropping tariffs, but also through more efficient and technologically advanced farming and by dropping non-tariff trade barriers such as the extremely strict EU GMO rules.”

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Post-Brexit opportunity: making the internet less annoying

They’re cookies, and they’re not the delicious kind: internet cookies pop up on every new website we click on. The pop-up often says something like this: “We use cookies to help our site work, to understand how it is used, and to tailor the adverts presented on our site. By clicking “Accept” below, you agree to us doing so. You can read more in our cookie notice. Or, if you do not agree, you can click “Manage” below to access other choices.” What cookies do essentially is store information on your device on how and where you navigate on their website.

When retrieving the information from your device, the website knows what particularly caught your eye, and they can improve their website structure or marketing based on this data. However, cookies can also be useful to the user, in that it stores your password, and keeps you logged into your favourite social media platform or airline account. The way rules are today, you need to opt-in to allowing cookies to be stored.

It wasn’t always that way. Prior to the “Citizen’s Rights Directive“, users were assumed to having opted-in to the sites cookie policy, automatically and then explicitly opted-out if they wished. In 2009, this directive changed the approach from an opt-out to an opt-in, as it was with the privacy directive since 2002. This has created a wave of annoying pop-ups, that can sometimes block half the screen, and deteriorate user experience.

Part of the directive sets the rules regarding cookie consent, and only implies two instances for implicit consent (meaning you are assumed consenting to the use of cookies), both relating to providing a service that the user specifically requested. For instance, an online shop remembering what you put into your shopping cart, does not need explicit consent.

The reformed privacy regulation of the European Union – ePrivacy Regulation – is set to come into effect this year, but no reform of cookie consent riles is planned. This would continue the cycle of annoying cookies. However, implementations can vary. Germany has an opt-out approach, so long as data collected by cookies immediately undergo pseudonymisation and are kept in a pseudonymised state. Your cookie disclaimer in Germany will also always state that continued use of the website implies consent.

But there is an easier option already on the market. A well-reflected reform would put all cookie use under implicit consent, with the knowledge that users can use often free and already existing software that allows them to opt-out of all cookie use that they deem unsuited for them. This allows consumers to take their data use into their own hands, without an unnecessary and ineffective pop-up on every website. This could also be an integrated feature in browsers, that would allow consumers to easily navigate their privacy rules in one centralised place.

This represents yet another way in which regulatory independence would allow the UK to diverge from bad EU policies.

Bill Wirtz is a Senior Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Centre.

Originally published here

Brexit Can Be A Success, But Only If We Do It In The Right, Liberal Way

The Consumer Choice Center’s Maria Chaplia outlined the senseless thinking behind protectionism recently, writing:

“Imagine you’ve been on a team with the same people for decades. You are well aware of the capabilities of your colleagues, and you are on good terms with your boss. More importantly, you have developed a working schedule for yourself, and have been sticking to it deliberately – repeating the same tasks day by day without attempting to improve the quality of their performance. You have been doing fine, just like everyone else on your team.

One morning, your boss announces that there is a new employee or group of employees from abroad joining the team. Naturally, every well-established tribe is suspicious or even hostile towards newcomers, especially if it’s not accustomed to dealing with changes. You and your colleagues will, therefore, try to find a way to persuade your boss to change their mind. After all, why hire someone new, or why alter anything at all, if you and your consumers are doing fine?

On their first day, the newcomers carefully examine your workplace and conclude that your team’s productivity and attitudes are completely outdated and have been far behind world progress for years. Added to that, they find out that the prices you charge are much higher than those in countries where they come from, and that your consumers are of course unaware of that. Their impression is that your boss has been consistently covering for you in order to “protect” you from competition. They are determined to change it: they suggest more innovation, lower prices to the benefit of consumers, and the elimination of the fine mentality.”

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Campaigners speak out against latest plain pack recommendations

Maria Chaplia, media associate at the Consumer Choice Center, also voiced her concerns over the report. She said that nannying consumers by taking the responsibility for food choices off their shoulders is “a curse in disguise”.

“There is no one who denies the importance of addressing obesity. Yet there is a huge disagreement on how to solve the issue.

“The options on the table are either to limit consumer choice by proceeding with plain packaging, taxes, and other bans, or to encourage responsible parenting and physical activity without trumping on anyone’s choices. The latter is the preferred way forward.”

She added: “Plain packaging of tobacco products is driven by similar public health considerations. However, regardless of the equally noble motives in place, its failures are numerous and evident.

“The British obesity problem is rooted in the lack of physical activity, not in consumption preferences. According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24% since the 1960s.

“By pushing forward the plain packaging of foods, its proponents are simply shooting in the wrong direction.”

She concluded that “the most unacceptable part” of the IPPR’s plain packaging scheme is that it stems from the assumption that it knows what choices are better for individuals.

“Though framed to be in the public interest, this is highly pretentious. Not only does this belief undermine the ability of consumers to decide for themselves, but it also blocks their access to the information about the products they buy and consume.

“Information is dispersed through branding. Plain packaging is aimed to make our life plain of choices.”

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Sweets, crisps and sugary drinks should have plain packaging, says think tank

In response to the report, Maria Chaplia, media associate at the Consumer Choice Center, said: “The British obesity problem is rooted in the lack of physical activity, not in consumption preferences. According to Public Health England, physical activity in the UK declined by 24% since the 1960s. By pushing forward the plain packaging of foods, its proponents are simply shooting in the wrong direction.

“The most unacceptable part of the IPPR’s plain packaging scheme is that it stems from the assumption that it knows what choices are better for individuals. Though framed to be in the public interest, this is highly pretentious. Not only does this belief undermine the ability of consumers to decide for themselves, but it also blocks their access to the information about the products they buy and consume. Information is dispersed through branding. Plain packaging is aimed to make our life plain of choices.”

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The Unlikely Saving Grace of British Cannabis

The global crusade against cannabis is finally beginning to falter. As the attitudes of citizens and lawmakers alike begin to soften, the prospects of full legalisation have gone from a stoner’s pipe-dream (if you’ll pardon the pun) to very feasible in only a couple of years. With a fifth of the US legalising the plant for recreational use, alongside Canada and Uruguay, as well as numerous European states opting to decriminalise its use, progress has been quick and promising.

This is cause for optimism. Newly-legal markets in the US and Canada have already seen booms in market growth and innovation, not to mention the positive effects of decriminalisation on the harm felt by users. In decriminalising or outright legalising cannabis, legislators in such countries have helped foster an environment in which entrepreneurship and consumer well-being are welcomed and encouraged.

But there’s still work to do. In many countries, reluctance to embrace cannabis is preventing them from enjoying the benefits felt by more committed nations. Legislators are, all too often, unable or unwilling to properly ride the green wave, preferring instead to watch from the pier.

Italy, for example, is a victim of this lack of commitment. Vagueness surrounding the legality of Italian hemp and cannabis has made it far more difficult for entrepreneurs and investors to know where they stand, damaging their confidence and potential to create a flourishing market. As such, progress has been far slower in Italy (a country which once held the number two spot worldwide for industrial hemp production), than in countries which are more willing to commit.

In the UK, the story looks rather familiar. Despite the nearly four-decade long prohibition on medical cannabis being overturned by Home Secretary Sajid Javid last year, access to the drug is still hampered by heavy-handed restrictions and high costs. Patients will have to wade through a sea of bureaucracy and extortionate bills to have access to the drug legally, rendering any benefits this would have over continued use of the black market very hazy.

Growers and entrepreneurs, too, are deterred by legal ambiguity. With the British government reluctant to go any further than this somewhat-legal medicinal cannabis, the country is at risk of following Italy’s footsteps and missing out on what seems poised to be one of the most promising markets of our time.

There is a silver lining though. While patients and consumers may have their wellbeing overlooked by the government in Westminster, an unlikely source shows far more promise when it comes to protecting their welfare. Across the UK, members of the police are beginning to relax their approaches to cannabis offences.

Rather than prosecuting those caught with small amounts of the drug, many police officers are instead opting for warning and recommendations for how to quit. This has prompted accusations that the police are pushing for de facto decriminalisation outside of the realm of legislators.

In practice, however, such action might be the saving grace for British cannabis consumers. A more relaxed approach from police allows for a far safer environment, with police attention shifted to the darker, truly criminal side of the market, and away from nonviolent consumers.

Moreover, the controversy surrounding this ‘blind-eye’ approach could be just the thing needed to get the ball rolling on higher-up decriminalisation. Rather than shell out thousands for legal medicinal cannabis, or to risk buying on the black market, some are now pushing the cause of growing the plant at home for treatment of certain ailments.

While the British cannabis scene is still hampered by a stubborn government, changing attitudes from law enforcement could revitalise the debate on harm-reduction and smart drugs policy, all the while making life easier for consumers. It may be early days, but there’s hope that legislators will see sense in the police’s decision.

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