Food made from genetically modified crops will continue to be banned in the UK after Britain leaves the European Union, Michael Gove has suggested.
The Environment secretary’s admission could damage Britain’s attempts to negotiate a trade deal outside of the EU because the US is expected to push for more GM-based foods to be sold in the UK.
Britain is under intense pressure from the US to drop the EU’s ban on GM foods after Brexit to help speed a trade deal with the US.
However the EU has insisted that food standards will not be compromised if the UK and the EU are to agree a trade deal after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
Over the past two decades European Union scientists have passed 40 crops as safe; yet only one – a GM version of maize – is grown in Spain as animal feed.
Mr Gove was asked by The Telegraph at a conference whether after Brexit GM food is more likely to be sold in the UK, and if he would eat chlorine-washed chicken, which the US is keen to export to the UK.
He replied: “No and yes,” before hastily trying to cover up for his admission by adding “but probably in whichever order you prefer”.
Earlier this month on a visit to the UK, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said food regulations are among several “landmines” that could obstruct negotiations with America on a new trade deal.
He said compliance with EU food standards on GM crops and chlorine-washed chicken could pose problems in trade negotiations.
Mr Ross said on Nov 6 that restrictions imposed by the EU were “really not science-based”.
Mr Ross said “We’re huge trading partners with each other and our economies are in many ways more similar to each other than either of us is to most of Europe.”
But Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said on Nov 20: “The UK has chosen to leave the EU. Does it want to stay close to the European model or does it want to gradually move away from it?”
In the months after Brexit, ministers in the Environment department talked up the possibilities of GM food being licensed for sale in the UK.
George Eustice, the farming minister, said in October last year: “There are a number of GM crops which have been cleared as safe by the European Food Safety authority, cleared as safe for at least a decade but are still not authorised because the politics of the EU gets in the way.”
He said that “once you have arrived at a common understanding on science we should be free to legislate to authorise products that have ultimately been judged safe”.
Asked if this could be done by 2020, a year after the UK is expected to leave the EU, he said: “Yes, easily. These sorts of changes, these regulatory changes, you would hope to have in place by then.”
In his speech to a conference organised by the Country Landowners’ Association Mr Gove blamed EU policies for a collapse in the numbers of birds and bees on British farmland.
He said the damage was linked to the EU’s focus on producing rather more food rather than “any other benefit”.
Mr Gove said that any new funding for farming would support “high quality production and to ensure that the sinews of the rural economy remain strong”.
It was a “matter for negotiation” whether Britain’s farmers were subject to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy in any transition period after the UK leaves the EU, he added.
Britain’s farming and fisheries sectors could “diverge” away from EU regulations during the transition period, he suggested.
Earlier this month Mr Gove told a peers’ committee that while there is “no question” tehe chicken is “fit for human consumption” in health terms, the “question is welfare”.
Source: The Telegraph