Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, in his new role as Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, announced his mission to wade through unnecessary EU legislation to determine what should get the chop.
He appealed to the public for their ideas. Ask, Mr Rees-Mogg, and I shall deliver! Using his competition, innovation and deregulation criteria, I present three Brexit opportunities for the UK to meet its environmental and scientific ambitions, and help towards a more resilient, domestic food system.
Despite their clear scientific differences, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided to ignore the science when back in 2018 it ruled that the EU should regulate both gene-edited organisms and genetically modified organisms in the same way. This has resulted in a lengthy EU regulatory process for gene-edited crops that can take up to ten years to navigate.
Doing so has stifled the development of our gene-editing industry, depriving farmers of precision bred livestock that can help make them more pest and climate resilient. The ECJ’s decision leaves our farmers open to a huge bill for disease prevention and treatment and at a competitive disadvantage in the wake of new trade deals.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs must allow farmers to unlock the potential of cost-cutting, risk-reducing gene-edited livestock and crops. As the new Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill makes its way through the Commons, science, not scaremongering, must guide the way.
With global protein consumption expected to double by 2050, cultured meat adds another option for consumers to help to meet this demand more sustainably. A thriving cultured meat sector would render the radical demands to impose plant-based diets in the name of environmentalism irrelevant.
And don’t just take my word for it. Back in 1931, Winston Churchill had his own, bold vision to escape “the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” The governments of Israel and Singapore are currently leading the charge, but the UK could be quick to join them.
Such ‘novel foods’ currently undergo a lengthy product safety assessment in the EU of at least 18 months. Where the EU produces burden and bureaucracy, the UK should create a streamlined and nimble approval process that better respects the developing nature of the science. New British rules could cut time by providing publicly accessible guidance for companies wishing to make an application and allowing them to amend the application after submission.
Before you start rolling your eyes, let’s be clear: it is ridiculous to think that the UK will collectively sit down to tuck into a bowl of cricket risotto one day. But, it is not so naïve to believe that an entire pig farm would be willing to do so. The natural diet of many animals, farmed and wild, already includes insects.
Repurposing would-be food waste, operating more localised, deforestation-free supply chains, and freeing up the land currently used to grow feed for nature, makes the farming of insects for feed a solution to many environmental challenges we face.
This homegrown alternative has the potential to be a much cheaper and more secure source of feed for the pig and poultry farmers that are currently being stung by the rising cost of conventional, imported animal feed.
Although the safety of processed insect protein is undisputed, the heavy-handed European feed ban rules currently classify insects for feed as ‘farmed animals’, like other livestock, restricting what farmers can feed insects and what animals they can feed. Therefore, the rules are significantly and unnecessarily restrictive towards processed insect protein, treating it in the same way as animal bone and blood meal. Scrapping this retained EU rule would allow the UK to adopt the necessary nuance in its legislation to create a processed insect protein market.
If the mission at hand is truly to seize Brexit opportunities and rip down red tape, then Mr Rees-Mogg should scrap the EU’s burdensome regulation in these three areas to unleash British innovation.
Creating a regulatory landscape that will enable gene-editing, cultured meat, and insect protein to grow and thrive can help deliver on this Conservative government’s geopolitical, scientific and environmental goals. Perhaps more importantly, it would also help to brandish the credentials of this supposedly pro-growth, pro-innovation, pro-Brexit administration. After all, whether lab-grown, gene-edited or insect-fed, red meat is still red meat.
First published by 1828. Kitty Thompson is Nature Programme Manager at the Conservative Environment Network.