Agriculture and food should be on COP26 agenda say Scots

The UK government yesterday signalled its intentions to move forward with reforms of the regulatory system surrounding the growing of new varieties of crops and rearing of stock developed using gene editing and other new breeding techniques.

Mark Buckingham
Mark Buckingham

Westminster claimed that the move, which was part of its announcement on plans to capitalise on new Brexit freedoms, would enable more sustainable and efficient farming which would help to produce healthier and more nutritious food.

Many scientists had felt that the EU ruling in 2018 to place the same strict controls on the growing of gene edited crops as were applied to genetically modified crops was overly restrictive.

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They claimed that existing genes were merely tweaked rather than foreign DNA being introduced to such organisms - and the outcome merely speeded up results which could be achieved by normal breeding techniques.

In recent weeks several reports have been released emphasising the potential of gene-edited crops to contribute to farming sustainability, offering more resilient and disease resistant crops which required fewer pesticides and less fertiliser – and which would help address climate change issues.

Commenting on the announcement, NFU Scotland said that while gene editing was just another breeding technique, it offered access to traits which could benefit animal welfare, public health, the environment, and farmers.

“In the 21st century, a new breeding revolution can help address the biggest challenges of our time, the biggest one right now being climate change,” said the union’s crop policy manager, David Michie.

“There are a lot of things that need to be done to address the challenges we now face, and GE is a tool that should be taken out and used to move forward to a net zero future.”

The announcement came as a new survey on the UK’s attitudes to farming issues found that 62 per cent of the Scots surveyed agreed that farmers should be able to benefit from the innovations that could help them play their full role in tackling the climate crisis, despite the Scottish administration’s resistance to permitting the use of gene edited crops.

The YouGov survey also found that 70 per cent of people living in Scotland were worried about the fact Britain relied on imports for almost half of its food supply, with 88 per cent wanting to eat more local produce as awareness of sustainability issues and greenhouse gas emissions grows.

The report commissioned by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council – an umbrella group representing four of the country’s largest agro-chemical and breeding technology corporations, BASF, Bayer, Corteva and Syngenta – surveyed 2,000 adults across the UK, including 181 from Scotland.

ABC c hair Mark Buckingham said that British farmers had helped the country through some of its most difficult times in recent months, ensuring a safe supply of healthy, good quality and affordable fresh produce.

A total of 84 per cent of Scots also wanted to see improved education around food’s journey from farm to fork, and believed that children should learn how food was grown and produced so that they left school with an understanding of the health and sustainability implications of farming.

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