The Future of GMOs in the UK Post-BrexitFebruary 15, 2018

Following the United Kingdom triggering its formal exit from the European Union, negotiations regarding the details of the exit and the following transition period have begun. As one could expect, this negotiation process has brought to light underlying tensions between the UK and the EU. These tensions recently reached a peak when earlier this month the EU’s negotiator warned that a post-Brexit transition is “not given” as parts of the EU’s terms for the exit are non-negotiable, despite the UK’s “substantial” objections. Although the strain between the two entities somewhat declined in the following days, the fate of the UK is by no means certain.

The uncertainty created by Brexit threatens to overshadow even the more decided areas of the exit–but that is not necessarily all bad. For example, the UK has indicated it will maintain much of the intellectual property law set in place by the EU. But within the broad standards of uniform intellectual property protection, the UK would still have significant leeway to modify its own regulations. One such area of intellectual property law is the realm of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In the wake of Brexit, the UK government has confirmed that it will review the existing regulations on genetically modified (GM) products. Although the regulations are less likely to be modified to allow human consumption of GMOs, regulations allowing the development and sale of GM products for other purposes (like animal feed) are not off the table. 

The United Kingdom is one of the most pro-GMO member states of the European Union. The UK also currently imports GM commodities (although it does not yet commercially grow GM products). More significantly, a substantial amount of the UK’s agricultural production is devoted to cereals, including wheat and barley. If the UK modified its existing regulations to allow for the growth and sale of GM cereals, even for purposes besides human consumption, this would allow the UK to enter global agricultural markets on a more competitive scale. It would additionally create immense new opportunities for patent and plant variety protection within the UK. Patentees interested in GMO protection should watch carefully as the UK revisits its GMO regulations, and develop a contingency plan for protection within the UK.

Sarah Luth is an Associate Attorney in the Chemical/Biotech Patent Practice Group at McKee, Voorhees & Sease, PLC. For additional information please visit or contact Sarah directly via email at

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