21st September 2021
I’m writing to refute some of the assertions made in the article, ‘No 10 to give go-ahead to gene-editing in agriculture after lifting of EU rules’ which featured in the 17 September issue.
There are several important issues that both Lord Frost and Professor Gideon Henderson fail to acknowledge. Most importantly, whether the ‘sticking plaster’ of gene editing will effectively tackle the current social and environmental emergencies that we face.
Proponents of new GMOs indicate that new varieties will be able to be delivered quickly but it is when things are done quickly that mistakes are made. Our environment is already under huge stress with biodiversity in free fall, so these ‘rapid’ developments need to be fully tested before being released into the natural environment. As such, OF&G recommends that the manipulation of genetic material should only be carried out under a robust, fully transparent regulatory framework. We have a duty to give both farmer and shoppers a choice; from variety breeding through to product labelling, similar to the stringent regulation organic licensees achieve year-on-year.
Organisms created by genetic engineering are novel and patentable, created using ‘inventive steps’ that do not occur in nature. In the ‘new world’ of GE patented crops Intellectual Property Rights will be hugely important in the food system. We would encourage a public debate on the impact of ever greater corporate control of our food.
Finally, Lord Frost’s assertion that lifting of the ban on GE will “enable more sustainable and efficient farming and help produce healthier and more nutritious food” is entirely unproven.
We have had 70 years of agricultural technological innovation which has attempted to manipulate and subvert nature and we are now facing the harsh realities of this approach. Government needs to think beyond a ‘silver bullet’ and address the root causes of these problems, if we are to avoid the inexorable slide toward disaster for our society and planet.
OF&G (Organic Farmers & Growers)
The original article written by Richard Vaughan and Tom Bawden appeared in print. An online version has the title 'UK set to approve gene-edited livestock and crops in major post-Brexit break with EU policy'