On 10 November 2020, the House of Lords is due to debate together the draft Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. Both instruments were laid under the draft affirmative procedure. This means they must be approved by both Houses before they can be brought into force.
The main purpose of the regulations is to ensure that the framework of laws governing organic products and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) operates in accordance with the Northern Ireland Protocol after the end of the transition period.
Until the end of the transition period, EU laws apply in these areas, including:
- Requirements for the production, processing, labelling and importing of organic products, and the inspection systems that must be in place to ensure the requirements are met.
- Controls on the production, movement, traceability, labelling and marketing of GMOs and products produced from them.
The European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 transcribed relevant EU legislation into UK law, to retain its operability at exit day, now defined as 31 December 2020, the end of the transition (or implementation) period. As it was taken from EU statute, this legislation made references to the EU, EU institutions and EU legislation. In 2019, the Government made amendments so that it instead referred to the UK, UK institutions and UK legislation.
The EU and UK then signed the withdrawal agreement, which came into force on 1 February 2020. Under article 5(4) of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol in the agreement, Northern Ireland will remain aligned with certain EU rules, rather than with those applying in the rest of the UK, while the protocol remains in force. This would include rules on organic produce and on GMOs.
This legislation therefore amends aspects of retained EU law to refer to Great Britain, GB institutions and GB legislation, rather than to the UK equivalents. The provisions of both instruments come into force either immediately before or at the end of the transition period.
The Government has stated that neither instrument makes substantive changes to the regulatory regimes. The explanatory memorandum for the GMO regulations says that “there is no change in policy” introduced by the instrument. The memorandum for the organic produce regulations states that their aim is to:
Remove ambiguities and inconsistences whilst still maintaining continuity as far as possible […] The amendments are unlikely to have any noticeable impact on the organic sector. The current organic standards will be maintained at the end of the transition period.
The GMO regulations were laid before Parliament on 12 October 2020. The organic products regulations were laid on 13 October 2020.
Both regulations have been considered by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which has not raised any concerns. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has considered the draft Genetically Modified Organisms (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, and also raised no concerns about the instrument. The joint committee has not yet considered the draft Organic Products (Production and Control) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.
The House of Commons is scheduled to debate both instruments in a delegated legislation committee on 11 November 2020.
- Institute for Government, ‘Brexit deal: the Northern Ireland Protocol’, 5 February 2020
- European Commission, ‘Organics at a Glance’, accessed 4 November 2020
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Trading and labelling organic food from 1 January 2021’, 26 October 2020
- European Commission, ‘Genetically modified organisms’, accessed 4 November 2020
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Genetically modified organisms: applications and decisions’, 17 July 2020
Cover image by Kangbch at Pixabay.