Extending the practice from crops to livestock would be likely to trigger protests, says Mail Online report
UK environment secretary Michael Gove has been enthusing about the prospect of opening up the country to genome-edited animals in the wake of Brexit, as the article below from the Mail Online reports.
In messianic words that are all too familiar from the way UK politicians promoted the first generation of GM crops, Gove claimed that "Gene editing technology could help us to remove vulnerabilities to illness, develop higher yielding crops or more valuable livestock, indeed potentially even allow mankind to conquer the diseases to which we are vulnerable. Food in abundance, improved health, greater longevity: these are all goals to which our species has aspired since the first farmers waited for the first harvest."
There are many things wrong with this ad for the agricultural biotech industry, which has every appearance of having been written by industry lobbyists. First, Gove is disingenuously mixing medical applications of genome editing for diseases with genome editing of animals. Genome editing for medical uses is largely not contentious unless it involves germline inheritable changes. And this field of research can and does progress entirely independently of genome editing of food crops and animals. But genome editing of animals and food crops is wildly unpopular and entails the risk of producing off-target effects that pass undetected to consumers.
Plus if GMO lobbyists get their way, genome edited products will escape GMO labelling and GMO-specific regulation.
Further, Gove's suggestion that genome editing will bring a brave new world of abundant food and high-yielding crops is unsubstantiated hype. Even if genome editing were able to produce higher-yielding crops, which isn't proven, we don't need more food. We already produce more than we will need even at peak population in 2050. And up to 40% of food in the US is thrown away. In the developing world, food rots in storage while people go hungry.
Gove would do better throwing his weight behind the many agroecological approaches that are proven to improve food production for farmers and consumers in a safe and equitable way.
Gove says 'Frankencows' made using genetic modification could be allowed after Brexit to help farmers produce 'more valuable' animals
By TIM SCULTHORPE
Mail Online, 4 Jan 2017
* The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, mapped out plans for a 'green Brexit'
* He will tell farmers that improving the environment is seen as a 'vital mission'
* Farming is one of the economic sectors most affected by Brexit
Genetically modified animals could be allowed in Britain after Brexit to help farmers produce more valuable livestock, Michael Gove suggested today.
Leaving himself open to a charge of giving a greenlight for 'Frankencows', Mr Gove said 'gene editing technology' could come to Britain in a major speech.
The Environment Secretary raised the prospect in a speech outlining his vision for a 'green Brexit' but warned it was a moral question that had to be carefully considered.
Genetically modified food is deeply controversial in Britain and many consumers refuse to buy it for fear of unintended consequences. Extending the practice from crops to livestock would be likely to trigger protests.
In his speech today, to the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Mr Gove said technology in farming was at a crucial tipping point.
He said 'big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning' would streamline farming practices - but warned there were also 'political and moral questions'.
Admitting the industry could be 'biting off much more than can chew', Mr Gove said: 'Gene editing technology could help us to remove vulnerabilities to illness, develop higher yielding crops or more valuable livestock, indeed potentially even allow mankind to conquer the diseases to which we are vulnerable.
Food in abundance, improved health, greater longevity: these are all goals to which our species has aspired since the first farmers waited for the first harvest.
'But in attempting to shape evolution more profoundly than any plant or animal breeder ever has done before are we biting off much more than we can chew?'
In his speech, the Environment Secretary mapped out plans for a 'green Brexit' that will focus future payments to farmers on enhancing the environment rather than paying 'subsidies for inefficiency'.
He told farmers that improving the environment is now seen as a 'vital mission for this Government'.
Other key aims include improving public access to the countryside, reducing flooding, and investment in technology to boost food production – all of which could attract public funding in the future.
Farming is one of the economic sectors most affected by Brexit, with subsidies to British farmers worth about £3.2billion a year.
In a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference today, Mr Gove pledged to continue funding at the same level until 2024 – effectively giving farmers a unique five-year transition out of the EU. Only the largest landowners will have payments capped.
But he will also made it clear that ministers want to move away from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the longer term.
Mr Gove acknowledged that Brexit will mean major changes for many farmers.
But he added: 'It means we don't need any longer to follow the path dictated by the Common Agricultural Policy.
'We can have our own –national – food policy, our own agriculture policy, our own environment policies, our own economic policies, shaped by our own interests.'
Under the existing payments system, farmers and other landowners receive subsidies based on the size of their farm and the number of livestock they have.
Mr Gove warned the system is 'fundamentally flawed', adding: 'Paying land owners for the amount of agricultural land they have is unjust, inefficient and drives perverse outcomes.
'It gives the most from the public purse to those who have the most private wealth. It bids up the price of land, distorting the market, creating a barrier to entry for innovative new farmers and entrenching lower productivity.
'Indeed, perversely, it rewards farmers for sticking to methods of production that are resource-inefficient and also incentivises an approach to environmental stewardship which is all about mathematically precise field margins and not ecologically healthy landscapes.'
But Mr Gove today made clear he wants taxpayer support to focus on environmental improvements.
He offered the prospect of new grants available to almost all landowners to plant trees, enhance wildlife habitats and water quality and return unproductive farmland to wildflower meadows to encourage butterflies and insects.
But there will be no return to direct subsidies for food production. His intervention comes as a report warns that trade deals after Brexit could pose the 'biggest peacetime threat' to the UK's food security if standards are not protected.
The Parliamentary Group on Agroecology called on the Government to ensure trade deals protect British farmers and do not undermine them by allowing imports of food produced with lower welfare or environmental standards.