‘Free for all’ biotechnology will not help UK farmers

GENE EDITED crops will only benefit the companies that own them, not the UK farmers who grow them.

It is the warning of organic watchdog, the Soil Association, this week, to a large extent against the UK government’s move to relax regulations on biotechnology.

Read more: Green light given to explore gene editing

“Sweeping aside regulations regarding genetic engineering could spell disaster for sustainable agriculture in the UK,” said Joanna Lewis, director of policy and strategy for the Soil Association, who highlighted the problem that the UK government had so far ignored in its deliberations: genetically modified organisms could be patented and therefore owned and fully controlled by the companies and companies that support them.

“What will stop profit-driven interests from dominating the government’s hopes for technology?” Mrs. Lewis asked. “How can we prevent farmers from losing even more control over their crop seeds? How do you prevent crops from being designed to sell more pesticides, not less? ”

Deregulation of biotechnology has been widely touted as a Brexit benefit for the UK. It is no longer covered by EU regulations which have largely kept biotechnology out of the food chain. Defra Minister George Eustice has announced his intention to review the regulatory definition of “genetically modified” to exclude genetically modified organisms. In a nutshell, the argument is that editing genes in a species’ genome is just a faster way to achieve what selective breeding already does, and does not deserve the same suspicion that it is afforded. to genetic “modification”, which is known to move DNA between species.

The price, as proponents of gene editing see, will be the faster development of crops with better resistance to pests, diseases and environmental extremes – just the ticket that climate change starts to bite and the conditions in it. UK arable fields are becoming less predictable.

Read more: Will Scotland be stuck at breeding technology traffic lights?

However, while acknowledging the problem of climate change, Mrs Lewis of the Soil Association insisted that “free cutting edge technology for all will not help”: “Modifying the DNA of crops and animals to make them temporarily immune to disease is not a long-term solution; we should invest in solutions that address the root causes of diseases and pests first, including lack of crop diversity, decline of beneficial insects and animal overpopulation. We must increase soil carbon, wildlife and animal welfare on farms to resolve climatic and natural crises, and protect human health.

“When it comes to any genetic engineering, the government has to say how it will ensure its fair use and how the unintended consequences will not negatively affect the environment or the animals,” she said. “The Soil Association calls for a commitment to better, not weaker, regulation of genetic research and increased support for farmers to adopt agroecological methods that support nature, as called for in the National Food Strategy.”

A spokesperson for consumer group Keep Scotland The Brand warned that introducing gene editing into the Scottish food chain would be a “huge nail in the coffin” for sales to the EU.

“It is the very divergence of standards leading to a loss of the European market which many have warned for years,” said Ruth Watson.

“It is very bad news for Scotland’s reputation as a producer of high quality food and drink if Scottish farmers are tainted with association. It is crucial that we keep our standards high and that # keepScotlandtheBrand. ”

Rare Breeds Survival Trust Managing Director Christopher Price was also not convinced of the benefits:.

“Most of the problems that gene editing seeks to solve are primarily the result of intensive breeding systems, keeping the native breeds out in extensive systems means these problems should not arise.” Mr. Price said.

“Bred to thrive in our landscape, when native breeds are kept in the right place and at the right density, we can achieve sustainable food production that goes hand in hand with the environment and high welfare.

“The idea of ​​changing the regulatory definition of a genetically modified organism to exclude organisms produced by gene editing” if they could have been developed by traditional breeding “is nonsense,” he added. . simply not comparable to the natural process of conventional breeding over many generations.

However, English NFU Vice-President Tom Bradshaw was more positive about the steps Defra is taking to mobilize gene editing against the issues of the day: “The global climate emergency underscores the urgency to enforce this technology to agriculture and this announcement is an important first step towards a properly functioning legislative system.

“We know that gene editing is not a quick fix. But if we are to be successful, any new government regulations must be strong, fit for purpose, and based on sound science. This in turn will build public confidence, enable diverse and accessible innovation and enable investment in products for the UK market.

“UK farming is innovative and ambitious and by seeking to use more sophisticated and targeted breeding tools for our crops and livestock, we can continue to produce sustainable and climate-friendly food into the future. ”

About Alma Ackerman

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