UK consumers give FSA their views on genome edited food
Food Standards Agency (FSA) Chief Scientific Advisor, Robin May, discusses the newly published ‘Consumer perceptions of genome edited food’ report, ahead of DEFRA’s announcement of next steps for the regulation of genetic technologies.
On 21 July 2020, we published a research project which gathered feedback from members of the public on their perceptions of genome edited (GE) food and its potential future labelling.
Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) are now responsible for all safety assessments of GM food and feed, as well as accompanying labelling rules.
As we continue to build an evidence base to inform future food policy, safety advice and labelling requirements in this fast-moving area, it is vital that we look to represent and protect the consumer in all aspects of this process.
This is why it is so important that we work closely with the public, as well as embarking on other cutting-edge research initiatives, to ensure we use the most robust evidence in order to act in consumers’ interests.
This report involved members of the public across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in online workshops and activities, followed by a representative survey of over 2,000 consumers.
GE is the term given to a wide range of techniques used to alter the DNA of organisms, including plants and animals – adding, deleting or replacing DNA sections. However, this research particularly focused on one specific sub-set of GE foods, where outcomes may otherwise have been produced using traditional breeding.
Using such GE techniques mean changes can be made more quickly and precisely. Potential uses include making small changes to DNA to improve traits in an organism, like the nutritional content of crops or their resistance to disease.
There are currently no genome edited foods authorised for sale in the UK, although some are available elsewhere in the world, and GE is a rapidly-growing technology within the global food system.
The research highlighted low participant awareness of GE and its difference to GM, and the need to educate the public on GE technology for use in foods.
Some participants felt regulation and transparent labelling of GE foods would be important, should they reach the UK market.
DEFRA will soon publish the findings of its consultation into the future regulation of genetic technologies in England, carried out earlier this year, which included a proposal to remove GE regulation from wider GM regulation.
We await this announcement and will continue to work closely with a wide range of partners to develop our future regulatory approach in this area.
Later this summer, the FSA will also publish a report which assesses different international regulatory approaches to GM and novel foods.
For more information on GE, including an ‘FSA Explains’ video, visit our dedicated GE webpage.
About the author
Professor Robin May took up his role as the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in July 2020. He provides expert scientific advice to the UK Government and plays a critical role in helping to understand how scientific developments will shape the work of the FSA, as well as the strategic implications of any possible changes.
Professor May’s early training was in Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford, followed by a PhD on mammalian cell biology at University College London and the University of Birmingham. Following postdoctoral research on gene silencing at the Hubrecht Laboratory, Netherlands, he returned to the UK in 2005 to establish a research programme on human infectious diseases. From 2017 to 2020, he was Director of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham, where he continues to work on Infectious Diseases alongside his FSA role.