Scottish Government remains fiercely opposed to the cultivation of GM crops

It's good to hear that the Scottish government is keeping its head screwed on and refusing to kowtow to Boris Johnson's pro-GMO frenzy – see the article below.

Johnson has now hyped GM crops in no less than three separate speeches in his first three days as UK prime minister. Of all the issues that face the UK right now – a struggling national health system, the social care crisis, and persistent poverty and homelessness, just for starters – why is he focusing on this failed and unpopular technology to such an extraordinary degree?

Look no further than the fact that as part of Brexit, the UK is seeking a trade deal with the US and Donald Trump. And Trump signed an executive order on 11 June 2019 telling his administration to urgently "develop an international strategy to remove unjustified trade barriers and expand markets for products of agricultural biotechnology" abroad. Johnson is simply dancing, puppet-like, to Trump's tune.

The article below contains the usual "jam tomorrow" promises from the agbiotech boosters, such as GM blight-resistant crops, which don't yet exist in the marketplace. If they are ever commercialised, they are unlikely to prove sustainable and maintain their disease resistance, since this is a complex trait that can't be conferred by altering one or a few genes.

On the other hand, there are many non-GM conventionally bred disease-resistant crops that are already available. These include blight-resistant potatoes, which have already shown they can resist this disease just as well as the GM ones that have been produced experimentally but not been proven to work in real farming conditions. So why take the risks involved in genetic engineering?

In the article below, Achim Dobermann, the director of Rothamsted Research, which has partnered up with corporations like Bayer, Syngenta and Dupont, argues for trait-based regulation of GM crops. This type of regulation is exemplified by the US and Canadian systems, which ignore the inherent risks of GM technology and focus only on the intended trait as the industry applicant defines it. It ends up giving a free pass to the vast majority of GMOs.

Rothamsted is carrying out field trials of GM crops, so has a vested interest in a much laxer regulatory system that will help it bring products to market more easily, almost certainly by licensing them to corporations.

In contrast, John Dupré, director of the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter, told The Times that the risks of permitting more genetic modification needed to be scrutinised. He said, "While Mr Johnson is right that there are genuine and perhaps exciting possibilities for genomically modified crops, he is quite wrong to suppose that these should be 'liberated' from serious review of the consequences of their introduction and regulation of their use. It takes a great deal of work to make sure that only the desired changes have been induced. And it is even more difficult to be sure that the only consequence is the one that was intended."

For Boris Johnson, however, a genetically modified future is golden. In his second speech since becoming Prime Minister, delivered to the House of Commons, he gave liberating GM crops as an example of the new "golden era" that Britain would be entering under his premiership. And at the weekend he told his audience at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester that "I can imagine in the future of this wonderful museum there will [be] exhibits recording not only the breakthroughs in bioscience, here in Manchester and elsewhere that allow the UK to lead the world in producing genetically modified crops - blight-resistance potatoes will feed the world."

He also said he foresaw "a memorial to the sceptics and doubters, complete with bioengineered edible paper, with which they were forced to eat their words." He didn’t mention that there might be "sceptics and doubters" even within his own government. For one, Zac Goldmith, whom Johnson has just appointed as a minister, and who has written, "GM has never been about feeding the world, or tackling environmental problems. It is and has always been about control of the global food economy by a tiny handful of giant corporations. It's not wicked to question that process. It is wicked not to."

Boris Johnson on collision course with Scots Government after hinting at move to GM food

by Nancy Nicolson
The Courier, July 27 2019

Europe’s stance on genetic modification (GM) and gene-editing (GE) looks set to be ditched if Boris Johnson follows through on his pledge to “liberate” the UK’s bioscience sector from EU rules in the wake of Brexit.

The Scottish Government remains fiercely opposed to the cultivation of GM crops in the open environment in order, it says, to protect the “clean green status of Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink sector”.

However, two of Britain’s agricultural science powerhouses – including the James Hutton Institute (JHI) at Invergowrie – responded warmly to the intended direction of travel in Mr Johnson’s first speech as prime minister.

Rothamsted Research director Professor Achim Dobermann said he welcomed the prospect of a more pragmatic approach to the risk assessment of GM crops, while JHI director Professor Colin Campbell – whose institute relies heavily on funding from the Scottish Government – said GM and GE had “great potential” to develop crops with biological resistance to pathogens, including blight in potatoes.

Prof Campbell acknowledged the need to take account of what is “socially acceptable” and to reflect local market sensitivities, but he added: “JHI is pioneering new ways of conventional breeding and uses GM and GE to help understand how to do this better.

“We are interested in a wide range of crop traits including those that might be seen as public-good traits, such as reducing the environmental impact of fertilisers, pesticides and greenhouse gas emissions.

“The deployment of GM and gene editing also needs to help address the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity we see around the world. Biological resistance would reduce the reliance on chemicals and potentially reduce the environmental risks often associated with synthetic biocides.”

Meanwhile, Prof Doberman said instead of a blanket ruling across all gene technologies, GM crop regulation could be done in a “much smarter” way, including on a trait by trait basis.