Now that the UK has left the EU, many European laws and regulations—including those dealing with gene editing and genetic modification—can be revisited. The Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has seized the opportunity, launching a consultation on these technologies for England.
The consultation aims to distinguish between older genetic modification technologies, which involved the insertion of DNA from one organism into a different organism, and new gene editing technologies, which create a mutation of a gene that already exists within an organism.
At Farmerama, we are not here to debate the technology itself—after all, we humans are a part of nature and have always ‘engineered’ our surroundings, whether it be through damming streams, selectively breeding plants and animals, or managing wildfires through controlled burns. What we are much more concerned about are the implications of the technology for questions of diversity, and their influence in shaping the future direction of farming in this country.
A fundamental assumption underlying the manipulation of genetics—in seeds and in other contexts—is that once you find a ‘good’ trait, you should seek to replicate it. Because the seed containing that trait can be owned, the motivation then becomes to sell as many replications of that one genetic variation as possible, in order to maximise profit. This leads, almost inevitably, to increased genetic uniformity in our fields. In other words: monocultures.
But is uniformity what we’re really after? The late Martin Wolfe was a crop breeder, whose important and beautiful insight—that we will never be able to ‘beat’ natural mutations and therefore the only way to build resilient crop and farming systems is through diversity—is in direct conflict with the uniformity perpetuated by genetic engineering, whether it be through gene editing or genetic modification.
The diversity of seeds is the opposite of replicating a single ‘wonder’ seed genotype.
If we put more human effort, time and money into this new variant of genetic manipulation, what we are effectively doing is putting more money, effort and time into breeding models that sustain failing monoculture production. So the question is very clear: Do you want to further monoculture production in the UK? Or do you want to innovate around diverse growing systems? At Farmerama we are very clear that diverse systems are at the core of our vision for the future.
It is for that reason that Farmerama does not support the deregulation of gene editing.