In 2023, the current Conservative Government passed the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act, which created an entirely new and fictitious class of genetically modified organisms – the ‘precision bred organism’, or ‘PBO’.

This sneaky, undemocratic attempt to force genetically modified organisms (GMOs) onto our plates – unlabelled – has been launched by our Government, working hand-in-hand with the biotech industry, research establishment and pro-GMO ‘think tanks’.

It represents the most serious threat to non-GMO, organic and traditional food and farming in my lifetime. It is an attack on our right to eat time-honoured ingredients in their natural forms. If successful, it will jeopardise our future ability to defend and protect authentic small-scale food culture.

How has this come about?

The Government has recently announced that, in July, it will table a package of statutory instruments to extend the scope of the Act. The General Election has delayed this, but only for a short while.

This package will include permissions for these genetically engineered, so-called ‘precision bred organisms’ (PBOs), including open field trials and farmed animals, such as pigs, chickens and salmon, and lay out the scant and recklessly inadequate requirements for marketing unlabelled PBO plant and animal foods.

How can this be happening?

There has been consistent, unwavering public opposition to genetically modified food since 1999, when, following their customers’ clear wishes, supermarkets adopted no-GMO policies. The Food Standards Agency’s own recent public consultation found that eight out of 10 people want to see food produced using these novel techniques, clearly labelled.

But the powerful genetic engineering lobby has never given up. It has manoeuvred behind the scenes to sidestep public resistance by fraudulently assuring acquiescent regulators that precision-bred foods do not need to be labelled because they are genetically indistinguishable from non-GMO food.

This assurance is demonstrably false. When the US Food and Drug Administration examined a gene-edited bull, it found the animal’s genome contained foreign bacterial DNA, including a gene conferring antibiotic resistance.

And when the US Health Research Institute compared ‘precision fermented’ milk against normal organic and biodynamic milk, it found 92 compounds previously unknown to science in the former. None had been evaluated for safety. This novel PBO milk also had an inferior nutritional composition, notably less riboflavin (vitamin B2). This underlines the reasonable assumption that these new genetic engineering techniques could undermine the nutritional integrity of our food.

In fact, ‘precision bred’ is simply a bogus marketing term, used to rebrand genetically engineered food and make it sound more palatable and less threatening to a hostile public. This is why over 100 international scientists and policy experts signed a statement opposing the use of the term ‘precision breeding’ to describe a genetic modification technique called gene or genome editing, on the grounds that it is “technically and scientifically inaccurate and therefore misleads Parliament, regulators, and the public”.

“Gene editing is not precise”

As Professor Michael Antoniou has pointed out: “Gene editing is not precise; nor is it breeding in any recognisable sense, being an artificial genetic modification procedure conducted on cells grown in dishes in the laboratory. The aim of the Bill’s title, and the wider use of the term ‘precision breeding’, would appear to be to give gene editing the appearance of controllability, predictability, familiarity, and therefore safety, implying that biosafety controls can be loosened or abolished. The signatories to the statement consider this a dangerous development and express strong disagreement with this use of the term.”

The scientists concerned that gene editing inevitably causes unintended DNA damage, which could result in risks to the health of consumers, the environment and, in the case of gene-edited animals, welfare problems, are under no illusions. Gene editing reconfigures common foods in unprecedented, unpredictable and potentially disastrous ways that would irrevocably disturb how our genes function. These interventions could trigger many grave health problems, such as creating unexpected toxins and allergens. What we’re assured is that precision breeding / gene editing is just a small precise ‘snip’ here and there in the genome, when, in fact, it is a radical intervention.

Yet, the entire Genetic Technology Act is based on the blatant lie that so-called precision-bred food is no different from the food we currently eat. Our supposed ‘food watchdog’, the Food Standards Agency, has even been telling sceptical retailers that “precision breeding should be viewed as a traditional food, just with a new technique”.

It is hard to know whether the Food Standards Agency’s laissez-faire stance reflects stupidity or mendacity. After all, its stated mission is “food you can trust”. “By this, we mean that people can trust that the food they buy and eat is safe and what it says it is.”

Even supermarkets don’t want genetically modified food

Significantly, no UK supermarket is willing to say it will stock gene-edited food. When New Scientist contacted the UK’s biggest chains to ask if they would stock gene-edited food after the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act becomes law, none would confirm that it would embrace the products. Waitrose was the only retailer to offer a position on gene-edited food, saying, “We currently have no plans to use this technology.”

Supermarkets reluctance to sell gene-edited, PBO foods, is unsurprising. It would undermine their traceability and transparency guarantees to their customers and harm consumer trust in their brands. Meanwhile, throughout the European Union, the big retailers are all vocally opposing any deregulation that would usher genetically engineered food onto customers’ plates.

Ironically, while the Food Standards Agency pedal the lie that PBOs can’t be detected, it recently, quietly, published a report showing that they can. A literature review on detectability, co-authored by a special advisor to the Government Chemist, concluded that detection methods do exist, that they can be developed further, and that detection is a cornerstone of traceability and necessary to support enforcement.

Yet the FSA rejected the conclusion of its own literature review in favour of the deregulatory agenda it is now pursuing. Evidently, the Food Standards Agency is not following the science; more likely it is following its instructions from Government.

If this new regulatory regime is put in place, potentially risky PBO foods and ingredients will be rubber-stamped and put immediately on the market, without safety testing, labelling or post-marketing monitoring. Once these products are approved, they will be approved forever, unless something demonstrably goes wrong, such as they make people or animals sick or provoke allergic reactions. Even then, any damage caused by the marketing of these recklessly developed genetically modified foods will be so dispersed in the environment that a causal link will be hard to prove. This grave situation is the absolute antithesis of the precautionary principle.

During the debate on the Genetic Technology Act, the Labour opposition, Greens and Lib Dems were very active in opposing a ‘blank cheque’ approach to deregulation.  Shadow Minister for farming and Labour MP, Daniel Zeichner, described the bill as “vague and thin” and called for details of how the technology would be adequately regulated.  Zeichner said, “We must recognise that any new technology also carries risks: risks of unintended consequences; risks of technology being misused; and risks of commercial pressure being exerted in ways that might not be for the benefit of the wider public.”

Let Government know that you don’t want genetically-modified food

In the hiatus caused by the forthcoming General Election there is an opportunity to put pressure on our MPs – and the likely next Labour (or coalition) Government – to significantly revise the Genetic Technology Act, or, at a minimum, enshrine in law a mandatory labelling requirement for PBO food ingredients, so that consumers can identify and boycott them.

Up until the general election was called, Beyond GM was running a successful ‘write to your MP campaign’. From next week it will launch a ‘write to your candidate’ campaign. Sign up to their newsletter for updates on how to participate at

Second, email supermarkets asking them to guarantee that they won’t sell unlabelled, genetically engineered PBO products.

Third, Labour has clearly recognised the inadequacies of the Genetic Technology Act, so put any pressure you can on Labour representatives to revoke it and remove the threat it represents to farmers and consumers alike. Urge them to impose a strict labelling requirement on all PBO ingredients, alongside a regime robust enough to trace and detect problems.

Anyone who cares about the integrity of our food chain simply cannot accept that England, Northern Ireland and the devolved nations are to become an unregulated laboratory for untested, unwanted, unpopular genetically engineered food.