We are writing to you, as leaders from civil society and the food and agriculture sector, who are committed to high quality food and farming and to supporting high quality retailers.

As you will be aware, on 7 January the Government announced a 10-week consultation on deregulating gene-edited plants and animals produced for food. At the same time it has made several incorrect statements suggesting that new gene editing techniques are the same as traditional breeding. These statements fly in the face of existing scientific knowledge and the 2018 European Court of Justice ruling[1]. That ruling made it clear that, both scientifically and legally, gene editing is the same as genetic engineering and that gene edited crops and animals are genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The ruling also stated: “the risks linked to the use of those new techniques…might prove to be similar to those which result from the production and release of a GMO”. These risks include multiple off-target effects which could be harmful to human health and the environment.[2] In the case of gene-edited livestock, the inherent animal welfare issues and societal concerns further indicate the need for robust regulation.

The push for deregulation has ramifications for trade[1] and we particularly note Stormont’s concern about negative consequences for trade with Northern Ireland[2], as these products are unlawful in the EU. We are very aware of the very real difficulties your stores are experiencing having to deal with dual regulations in your Northern Ireland retail estate. Deregulation has the very real potential to compound these difficulties significantly.

The Scottish and Welsh Governments have been clear that they will maintain their prohibition on producing GMO crops and animals, but UK internal market rules could stop them taking action to prevent sales of GMO products approved in England. This is a recipe for consumer confusion and significant operational difficulties for retailers.

The public – your customers – remains overwhelmingly against genetically engineered foods. A 2020 survey by Food Standards Scotland[3] found that, next to chlorinated chicken, genetically engineered foods are a top issue of concern for 57% of consumers. Another 2020 study conducted by the National Centre for Social Research,[4] which focused on Brexit-related issues, found that 59% wish to maintain a ban on genetically engineered crops. Yet another 2021 survey by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council[5] found that 64% of those who took part were opposed to the cultivation of genetically engineered food.

The experience of over two decades has shown us that genetic engineering has not delivered positive results for agriculture. In contrast, traditional breeding techniques are delivering the safe and nutritious British food that consumers want. Retailers have the power to shift the balance away from short-term technofixes towards ecological farming systems that promote longer-term sustainability.

European retailers such as Aldi, Carrefour, EDEKA, Kaufland, Lidl, Rewe and SPAR have been following a strict non-GMO policy for many years[6] and are already reaping the commercial benefits of their non-GMO policies.

We are asking you, as one of the UK’s leading retailers, to listen to your customers, to be respectful of nature and science, to be mindful of the future and to demonstrate leadership by joining us in opposing the deregulation of genome edited crops and livestock in England and the rest of the UK.

Please issue a statement opposing deregulation and reassuring your customers that, if deregulated, you will not stock these experimental and inadequately researched foods, should they be allowed under UK law.

We look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Pat Thomas

Director, Beyond GM

Shane Holland

Executive Chairman, Slow Food in the UK

Deborah Tomkins

George Dow

Co-Chairs, Green Christian

Jamie Agombar

Executive Director, Students Organising for Sustainability

Helen Browning

Chief Executive, Soil Association

Liz O’Neill

Director, GM Freeze

Patrick Holden

Founder and Chief Executive, Sustainable Food Trust

Prof Tim Lang

Professor of Food Policy, City University

Claire Robinson

Editor, GMWatch

Jyoti Fernandes

Director, Landworkers’ Alliance

Roger Kerr

Chief Executive, Organic Farmers and Growers

Jimmy Woodrow

Executive Director, Pasture-Fed Livestock Association

Peter Kindersley

Trustee, Sheepdrove Trust

Guy Singh-Watson

Founder, Riverford Organic Farmers

Josie Cohen

Head of Policy and Campaigns, Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK)

Anna Van Der Hurd

CEO, A-Team Foundation

Tracy Worcester

Director, Farms Not Factories

Christopher Stopes
Adrian Steele
Co-Chairs, English Organic Forum

Prof Martin Caraher

Professor Emeritus of Food and Health Policy at the Centre for Food Policy, City University

Lucy MacLennan

Chief Executive, Organic Research Centre

Robert Reed

Grants Manager, Farming the Future

Kate McEvoy

Ben Gabel

Directors, Real Seeds

Cristina Dimetto

General Manager, Organic Trade Board

Jacqueline Pearce-Dickens
CEO, Whole Health Agriculture

Clare Marriage

Chief Executive, Doves Farm

Pete Ritchie

Director, Nourish Scotland

Colin Tudge

Trustee, Real Farming Trust

Liz Hosken

Director, Gaia Foundation

Julie Brown

Director, Growing Communities

Prof Brian Wynne

Professor Emeritus of Science Studies, Lancaster University

Helen Woodcock

Co-founder and Coordinator, Kindling Trust

Gabriel Kaye

Executive Director, Biodynamic Association UK

Prof Erik Millstone

Professor Emeritus of Science Policy, University of Sussex

Dr Tom Wakeford

European Director, ETC Group

Prof Michel Pimbert

Director, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University

David Price

Managing Director, Seed Co-operative

Abby Rose

Co-founder, Farmerama

Andrew Trump

Managing Director, Organic Arable

Peter Richardson

Chairman, Organic Growers Alliance

Emma Rose

Director, Unchecked UK

Paolo Arrigo

Director, Franchi Seeds

Dr Janet Cotter

Founder, Logos Environmental

Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher

Director, Econexus

Joanna Clarke

Chairman, Pro-Natural Food Scotland

Further signatories since the letter was issued

James Campbell
CEO, Garden Organic
Mary Quicke
Managing Director, Quicke’s
Suzanne Barnard
Senior Campaign Manager, Meat Free Monday
Chris Young
Coordinator, The Real Bread Campaign
Trevor Griffin
Owner, Kirkby’s British Friesians
Suzy Russell
Network Coordinator, Community Supported Agriculture
Kimberley Bell
Founder, Small Food Bakery
Marlene Barret
Director, OrganicLea
Nick Weir
Facilitator, Open Food Network


[2] https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-020-00361-2

[3] https://www.thegrocer.co.uk/leader/gene-editing-debate-represents-first-test-of-uk-divergence-from-eu-rules/651895.article

[4] https://www.agriland.co.uk/farming-news/mcaleer-concerned-over-uks-commitment-to-gene-editing/

[5] https://www.foodstandards.gov.scot/publications-and-research/publications/survey-of-food-concerns-in-relation-to-brexit-wave-1

[6] https://natcen.ac.uk/news-media/press-releases/2020/october/after-four-years-of-brexit,-british-social-attitudes-reveals-voters%E2%80%99-hopes-and-fears-for-life-outside-the-eu

[7] https://whatukthinks.org/eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/WUKT-EU_Initial-Deliberation-Findings-Paper_v5.pdf

[8] https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/opinion/give-the-people-what-they-want-non-gmo-sells; see also https://www.feednavigator.com/Article/2019/11/15/Awareness-of-non-GMO-label-in-Germany-nearly-doubles