Kirsty Blackman – 2022 Speech on the Genetic Technology Bill

The speech made by Kirsty Blackman, the SNP MP for Aberdeen North, in the House of Commons on 31 October 2022.

We are concerned about the disadvantageous position that the Bill will likely put farmers in and about the knock-on impact on farmers in Scotland, despite the fact that the Scottish Government are not yet at the stage to approve the technology in Scotland.

The regulation of genetically modified organisms is a devolved matter. There is no question about that, and the Scottish and Welsh Governments have made that clear in their responses. The Scottish Government have been clear in their opposition to the UK Government’s moves on this. We do not presently intend to amend the GMO regulatory regime in Scotland, as we want to await the outcome of the EU’s consultation on whether some gene-edited organisms will be excluded from the GM definition.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, we are already suffering a 4% reduction in GDP due to this hard Tory Brexit. We do not need to see the introduction of further trade barriers caused by the UK’s rush to make this change. A delay to see the outcome of the consultation early next year would be far more sensible than passing the legislation now. This is relevant because of the impact of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which tramples over devolved competencies, and prevents the Scottish Parliament from refusing the sale of these products.

I wish to speak to new clause 9 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), which ensures that the democratic principle of devolution is upheld and that the Scottish Parliament still has the authority to legislate on the marketing of precision bred organisms. We have raised concern after concern about the implementation of the 2020 Act. If the UK Government intend to respect devolution, which the people of Scotland voted for, they must ensure that the Scottish Parliament can continue to take those decisions.

There are both animal welfare and environmental concerns relating to precision breeding. We must ensure that those are properly considered and that all information and evidence is available before taking any decision. We strongly welcome more research into gene editing and new genetic technologies, but that must precede the wide-scale deployment of such technologies.

The Scottish Government want to ensure that Scotland operates to the highest environmental and animal welfare standards, so that our world-class Scottish grown food continues to be outstanding. The impact assessment of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the precision breeding Bill acknowledges divergence from the EU approach, which could have implications for compliance costs and future trade. We must be able to export our produce and the Bill risks our farmers being further hamstrung—in addition to all the hardships they already face as a result of this Tory Brexit.

David Duguid

The hon. Member will be aware of the expression of disappointment from Martin Kennedy, president of NFU Scotland, that the Scottish Government have not become more involved in a UK-wide approach to this matter. None the less, she is absolutely right to say that this is a devolved competency. Does she agree that the UK Government have done nothing but be positive in terms of inviting the Scottish Government to be as involved in this matter as they possibly can be?

Kirsty Blackman

I cannot answer a question about the conversations that the Scottish Government and the UK Government have had on this matter, because I am not aware of exactly how those conversations have gone. What I am concerned about is the significant amount of produce that we export to the EU and the fact that the Bill poses a risk, for example, to the export of Scottish salmon. That is because the Scottish Government will lose some of their competency over this due to the internal market Bill and to the way that this framework is laid out.

Should amendment 1 from the Green party be pushed to a vote, the SNP will support it. The paucity of evidence is particularly acute in relation to animals. The Bill also risks violating the intention and application of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, passed for England and Wales earlier this year. The RSPCA has highlighted the fact that the public would not and do not support that.

New clause 8 relates to the labelling of food or feed produced by precision-bred animals. Eighty four per cent of people polled consider it important that all GE products introduced for sale in the UK are labelled as such, and only 8% do not consider that to be important. We are disappointed, therefore, that the UK Government no longer plan to consider requiring labelling for these products, despite the Minister saying in January 2022 that they would look at the matter. This will have a double impact in Scotland, because, even though the Scottish Parliament does not currently permit the marketing of these products, consumers will not be able to make an informed choice due to the lack of labelling requirements.

Mr Deputy Speaker, now is not the time for this Bill to pass. The UK Government have failed to make the case for “why now?” and have failed to ensure that the devolved competencies of the Scottish Parliament are respected as they seek to push through this legislation.