Draeyk van der Horn, Renew's spokesperson on Food and Farming, delves into some of the concerns surrounding gene editing.
New genetic modification techniques (NGMTs) such as “gene editing” present ethical concerns as well as economic and environmental ones. There are a number of unresolved questions and concerns.
There is an overwhelming flaw in the claim that gene editing of food crops and animals is similar to accelerated breeding or natural mutations as this is wholly unprovable.
At the moment we have a regulatory approach to our food and farming standards that rests in the precautionary principle. If we give way to a laissez-faire deregulation model, where the onus is put on consumers or “those harmed” to come up with “proof of harm” we are in very different waters. Rigorous independent scientific research must be commissioned and the proponents of NGMTs must show no proof of harm is evident before wider consultations can begin. The UK’s shift and potential acceptance of a deregulated approach is perhaps due to this governments haste in submitting to new trade agreements that potentially lower food standards, most notably with the USA.
The bar to gene editing acceptability must be robust and high, given it allows for outcomes that may be unprecedented in human experience. Familiar species and breeds may become unrecognisable over time through gene editing, through the ongoing manipulation of genetic code. Gene editing also raises concern around “ownership” of these new varieties and breeds, profoundly impacting food security by concentrating ownership of our food, though patents, into the hands of a few.
From a strictly scientific and technical perspective, NGMTs are clearly genetic modification procedures that result in the production of GMOs and as such must remain within the remit of existing GMO legislation.
The challenges for future food production are not simply based in the lab, but in the fundamental need to create food that works in harmony with the planet rather than a short term sell that does not tackle the underlying issues. Our planet is capable of feeding us. If we focus on reducing waste, build resilient food networks that serve local communities and embrace sound agricultural principles we nurture more than just our food and land but our well being.
Food and Farming needs to be recognised in terms of its stewardship and in terms of creating and maintaining traditions that support all life, working in harmony with natural systems. Supporting our farming communities means focusing on a path that supports a sustainable future, rather than rushing towards the irreversible direction of gene editing, that is quite simply dicing with our future.
Draeyk van der Horn
Spokesperson on Food and Farming
The Renew Party
Draeyk van der Horn is a Renew member and a smallholder on Dartmoor. He reflects on the effects that tourism and intensive farming methods are having on the local and national environment.
Living on Dartmoor is an honour, running our smallholding with sheep and apple orchards is a pleasure. Yet the yearly influx of visitors, the competing demands for access, these are costs often borne by the farmers who take pride in the land they farm and are happy to share it - but as the environmental costs are rising, who will pay?
Visitors come to the countryside to enjoy a break from a city, but are we killing what we love?
There is change in the air, and the environmental costs are becoming more and more tangible, impacting our food and growing culture. We often don’t notice the impact of unreliable seasons and less predictable weather on our countryside. The realities of climate change are not in some far-off land but in the here and now and affecting the uplands and lowlands of the nation.
What is now rightly termed a “climate crisis” is impacting access to quality feed, harvests and the wellbeing of our animals. Articles in many farming publications have highlighted impacts such as soil health and water management and rewilding. Yet how many visitors to the countryside consider this?
One huge and unimagined impact of the climate crisis and industrial farming practices, driven by the idea that food should be cheap at any cost, is the utter collapse of insect life. As is so often the case, so called “pest insects” seem to fare better, but overly focusing on pests (fuelling the idea we must spray even more chemicals to deal with them) diminishes the value of all insects in a balanced ecological and indeed agricultural system. We rely on bee and insect pollination for our harvest. Yet we are doing little to rectify the devastating impact of bee colony collapse and rapid loss of our many native bee species. Yet bees pollinate a third of our UK crops? Crudely put, that is a third of our food!
An April 2018 article in the journal ScienceDirect highlighted this impact. For example, butterfly species numbers fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009, while the overall abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to the journal PlosOne.
The loss of these species impacts not just farming but the wider ecosystem and the health of the land, and the greatest danger is that we do nothing.
We can improve our soils, create pollinator corridors, rewild, question pesticide practice and look at agri-environment ideas, such as the Dartmoor Farming Futures pilot which promoted a re-think and allowed farmers skills and expert knowledge to achieve beneficial environmental goals and encourage the development of new “traditions” in farming practices. Ultimately, to safeguard our food, we need to safeguard our countryside and our environment.
We have a choice, and as someone who is passionate about farming, my choice is to make a stand and speak up. Renew, a party that is growing ideas from the ground up - without a politician in sight - is doing just that. Farmers need a voice, and skills, knowledge and heritage need to be celebrated and reflected in environmental policies that will sustain our environment, our land and our future.