GM food debate must “rely on science and not dogma”, says East Anglian farmer

PUBLISHED: 16:43 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:51 02 October 2018

George Gittus at Symonds Farm in Risby Picture: PHIL MORLEY

George Gittus at Symonds Farm in Risby Picture: PHIL MORLEY


The UK needs to embrace the possibilities which crop sciences such as gene editing present after Brexit – and the GM debate should be guided by science rather than dogma, writes Suffolk farmer GEORGE GITTUS, of Symonds Farm, near Bury St Edmunds.

Scientists have now fully mapped the complete sequence of the wheat genome and the enormous dataset will accelerate innovation in breeding resilient and disease-resistant crops to feed a growing global population.

Sadly this news has come only a matter of weeks after the European Court of Justice ruled that gene editing, also known as CRISPR/Cas, should be put in the same camp as GM (genetic modification) and therefore advances in crop production in terms of disease resistance, improving nutritional benefits, limiting allergic responses are not going to be allowed in the EU.

What is also tragic is that the UK has some of the best scientists and institutions in this field.

So I would like to start a rallying call now to every farmer to use the time that we have between now and leaving the EU, when we are told we will be able to rely on science and not medieval dogma, to have an open debate with everyone so the UK government gets a clear message that we as a nation are ready to embrace these technologies for what they are – a huge leap forward in plant, animal and human health.

The world is now known to be round and not flat. The organic movement’s cry that conventional plant breeding can reliably progress as fast is a falsehood and not enough people know that the greatest leaps forward in so-called “conventional plant breeding” were achieved when the world discovered nuclear technology.

So, the plant scientists of the day put all the plant material that they had into lead boxes and blasted it with radiation to see what mutants were created. Not really what most would consider to be a scientific approach and I would venture to say most would say that was irresponsible as they had no idea what they were going to create, a Frankenstein monster.

But CRISPR/Cas is a phenomenally precise method of modifying genes – far more precise than traditional breeding or even GM technology. The regulations that govern the use of GM technology at EU level have served only to halt research and development on GM in Europe with no credible scientific evidence for such a go-slow.

Dr Doyle Prestwich, who is president of the International Association for Plant Biotechnology (IAPB), said: “This is nonsense. Mutagenesis for crop breeding is not new and has a proven safety record. For decades, we have been consuming crops that have been crudely blasted with gamma rays, without any adverse health effects.”

The GM debate, to a large degree ,has also got hijacked by those who are using it for their anti-capitalist, anti-corporation agenda.

This again can now be demonstrated, in the main, to be completely unfounded. There are many countries in the world where the use of GM technology has dramatically improved the lives of its farmers, massively reduced the amount of pesticide use and therefore reduce the harm to the environment.

It is not about putting cells from Arctic fish into strawberries, although this has been done in the lab. Where would the many people who are alive today with a pig’s valve in their heart be without the degree of reasoned debate that has taken place to say that the majority of people find this acceptable?

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