Gene editing generates a great debate

The GENE edition sparks a reinvigorated debate

Kevin Prince has extensive experience in agriculture and rural affairs in Hampshire, where he lives near Andover, and in the south of England as a director of the consultancy firm Adkin. His family also operates a diverse farm with commercial rentals, lodges and 800 acres of arable land.

If you have a favorite rose, breed of dog, or any other preference in a wider range of species, you are interested in the effects of gene editing.

It’s a topic that has become the subject of much debate in the agricultural world but has been largely ignored in gasoline and shopping queues, with concerns over pigs being slaughtered but not eaten. or whether there will be enough turkeys for Christmas dominating the headlines.

GE and GM are very different, and not just because the second letter of the acronym changes. This is not what brings about such a violent protest against GM but something deeper. GE has been around for years but has always been called selective breeding. If you wanted a Jack Russell over a French Bulldog – avoid one or the other, one cracks, the other hisses – my advice is to get a Labrador who will love you to death and gain weight like you do, which prompts you for another walk in the woods.

The point is that the process of development of these breeds took a long time. Effects could be seen and the worst traits hopefully avoided except in the case of the aforementioned small dogs. But it is a topic that you should delve into and research in order to understand the vital differences between GE and GM for yourselves. I’m not going to express an opinion on that either.

GE undertaken by scientists with a commercial interest will, like GM, lead to the filing of patents and the inaccessibility of new genetic lines to those who will not pay to use them. It won’t be out of benevolence or a desire to create a new flower that has a color or scent like no other, that can wow the crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show in some crazy “garden” creation.

GE, like GM, is about creating species with characteristics that make them better at what they do. This is why shorter-stemmed cereal plants were developed through a process of natural selection after the last war. They put their energy into producing less straw and more grain, becoming weatherproof while helping feed the world. GE selects what is there naturally and replicates the traits in future generations to create something different but still natural albeit at a much faster rate than the old ways. GM, on the other hand, brings in genetic material from entirely different species and creates a new one with extraterrestrial traits. They are resistant to certain chemicals that kill weed species, which is why crop science and agrochemicals combine to become such a big business.

The problem facing UK farmers is that we sell on the natural quality of our produce. Any whiff of clutter with “nature” suggests that it is no better than the things we resist under new trade deals. It is a complicated problem with a wide range of ramifications and it will be difficult to understand and accept it. Adopting it without microscopic examination of the consequences, although the UK government approves it in principle, could have disastrous long-term effects on the future of UK agriculture.

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