Carola Godman Irvine. Farmer, Campaigner & Columnist. 01-06-22

  • Written by Carola Godman Irvine
  • Posted on Jun 01, 2022
  • Articles

Food is clearly a concern when demands supersedes supply. Putin’s war in Ukraine, including his theft of hundreds of thousands of tons of grain, will result in famine across North Africa, and global shortages.

He clearly has a strategy to hold nations to ransom through sabotaging food security by restricting the flow of grain. This is a war crime for which he must be accountable. How best to do so is the million-dollar question.

Gene editing brings numerous benefits, from building crops that are resistant to climate change including drought, pests, and diseases, to increasing crop yields thus supporting food security, and reducing reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The process is relatively straightforward by introducing a single gene (each already has millions) which for example could enrich tomato plants with Vit D.

Speaking before the introduction of the Bill on genetic technologies to the House of Lords, Prof Gideon Henderson said the legislation aimed to create a simpler regulatory framework that would speed up the development and commercialisation of gene-edited products, by allowing them to be treated differently to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are subject to strict regulation.

“We anticipate the bill will enable precision-bred crops to navigate the regulatory system within one year, compared with approximately 10 years under the present regime,” he said.

The bill will also allow similar changes for livestock to follow once a regulatory system has been developed to safeguard their welfare. For example, preventing the creation of fast-growing animals that are unable to stand.

Despite the clear differences between gene editing and genetic modification, Friends of the Earth have dismissed any distinction between the two. There is clearly a lack of understanding the science, and they choose to focus on poor soil management and the overuse of pesticides and intensive farming. Surely it is important to understand that gene editing would help to improve soil management and reduce the use of chemicals to combat diseases and pest infestation.

The Soil Association has also chosen not to support gene editing. They consider the government should instead target unhealthy diets, a lack of crop diversity, farm animal overcrowding and the decline in beneficial insects.

Regarding unhealthy diets, it is worth remembering that ‘you can take a horse to water but not make him drink’. That farmers grow crops for which there is a market, and manage livestock in a way which is profitable. Surely it is not rocket science to understand that the decline in insects would be significantly reduced through gene editing which would cut back the use of sprays.

Gene editing does not provide answers to all the problems facing society but does address some food production and environmental challenges. There are legitimately held concerns particularly regarding usage in animals, and the potential to facilitate greater intensification of farming which could harm the environment. But, on the whole gene-edited crops is a very positive step.

Wishing Her Majesty a very Happy Platinum Jubilee.

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