The EU’s decision to begin a public debate on genome editing is overdue. The blanket ban on the production of genetically modified crops is a crude and outdated policy.
We don’t have enough space in this column to do a deep dive into gene-editing; neither do we have the knowledge. But there are some things that everyone knows.
We know the global demand for food is increasing, with an extra billion people every 15 years or so. We know that resources like fertiliser and pesticides leave an environmental footprint.
The fact that the EU has held its nose around genetic modification of plants right through the 21st century is increasingly looking like a strategic error
We’ve all seen how vulnerable supply chains are. Indeed, the EU’s own Farm to Fork strategy wants pesticide reduction halved in a decade, with fertiliser cut by 20%.
It’s an ambitious target, and we need to harness every single spanner in the toolbox if we’re going to come anywhere close.
With all that in mind, the fact that the EU has held its nose around genetic modification of plants right through the 21st century is increasingly looking like a strategic error.
Of course, we need to be cautious, but doing nothing isn’t caution, it’s inaction. And, certainly, there are legitimate concerns that multinational companies desire to make profits from cutting-edge technologies could see cutting of corners.
But there is a solution to this. The EU needs to get hands-on in harnessing the power of gene-editing, with government researchers developing applications for on-farm use.
We saw the fast-track process to develop a COVID-19 vaccine because we faced a global emergency. We face a possible global food emergency, and we are in an undeniable climate emergency.
People are openly talking about the need to consider nuclear power to address our energy needs, that it has become safer over time. The very same can be said about gene-editing and CRISPR technology.
Gregor Mendel, the monk who is regarded as the creator of the science of genetics, was from Brno in the Czech Republic, at the very heart of the EU. It’s high time that Europe properly honoured his legacy, and grasped this nettle.