PRESSURE from anti-biotech campaigners has paid off, with the Co-op supermarket chain declaring that it will not stock products derived from gene-edited organisms.

Debate is currently raging over the status of gene editing. The EU has chosen to lump the technology in with genetic modification, and thus prohibit its use in the food chain – but the UK's exit from European regulations has raised the possibility that gene editing might be given a more friendly welcome here.

The technology's supporters argue that, by working only on genes within the natural genome of each organism, it is simply a means of speeding up what could otherwise be achieved by lengthy selective breeding, raising fresh hope of disease, pest and weather distress resistant crops and livestock. However, opponents of biotech in principle describe it as the thin end of a wedge that can only end badly for mankind and nature.

Responding to the current UK government consultation on the possible deregulation of plants and animals created using gene editing, the #NotInMySupermarket campaign was created by pressure groups Beyond GM and Slow Food UK, which reached out to the country's major retailers asking them to 'respect the wishes of their customers', maintaining that the majority of the shopping population opposed any sort of genetically engineered foods.

This week it was one-nil to the doomsayers, as the Co-op offered its support to that appeal.

Co-op chief executive, Jo Whitfield said: “Genetic editing is one of several new technologies and innovations that may in the future help us to address the challenges facing our global food system. However, as with any new technology, it is important citizens are assured about food safety and the environmental and economic impacts are thoroughly understood before any decisions on widespread adoption are made.

"To this end, scrutiny by independent scientists and officials, as well as engagement with civil society, is essential. We would expect government to clearly set out how it intends to regulate gene editing, whilst providing clear conditions of use and any labelling requirements. We have no current plans to change our policy on prohibiting genetically modified (GM) organisms, which includes organisms produced by gene editing,” she stressed.

Beyond GM and Slow Food UK said that they were 'in dialogue' with a number of other supermarkets, but were delighted that the Co-op had 'made a clear first step that others can follow'.

Executive chairman of Slow Food in the UK, Shane Holland, said: "The Co-op is reassuring the majority of the UK public – who don't want GMO/gene edited foods on the shelves – that their wishes are respected. I am certain that they will gain a competitive advantage over other stores in doing so."

Director of Beyond GM, Pat Thomas, added: “The Co-op’s thoughtful response shows respect for its customers but also for science. It demonstrates the understanding that gene-editing is a technology that creates GMOs and therefore should be regulated in order to protect people and the environment. This is a big step forward.”