© Tim Scrivener

The report calls for support for biotechnology to address food security

The government should look to agricultural technology, including gene editing and gene modification, to help address growing food security problems, a report said.

The report was published by the Agricultural Biotechnology Council (ABC), an umbrella group that includes four chemical companies: Bayer, BASF, Corteva and Syngenta.

See also: Breakthrough in gene editing could reduce ruminant methane

It promotes various crop technologies along the food chain and the research community.

Entitled “What are the economic and environmental benefits of adopting agricultural innovations and how can we get there?”, The report urges the government to consider four recommendations:

  1. Establish a clear, short-term path to commercialization of technologies such as gene editing
  2. Move away from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to allow for greater agility and responsiveness in science-based policy decisions
  3. Reassure consumers about the safety of new technologies and the sustainable intensification of agriculture
  4. Continue investment in research and development in agricultural innovations.

He says the proposed approach is necessary as food production will have to increase by 70% to feed a global population that is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050.

Brexit opportunity

This must be achieved in a context of disruption caused by climate change, global demand, the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation and conflict.

The report also hails Brexit as “an opportunity to rejoin the mainstream of global agricultural innovation.” And it commends the government’s decision earlier this year to free gene editing research as a historic step.

But ABC President Mark Buckingham stressed the need for more support as UK farmers needed to produce high quality, affordable food in a sustainable way while competing with imports.

This meant responding to the consequences of climate change such as drought, extreme heat, floods and biological threats from pests, Buckingham said.

There was a need to build greater resilience by providing crops with better nutritional value that required less land and reduced agricultural emissions, he suggested.

Sainsbury Laboratory professor Jonathan Jones added further urgency to the request for political support.

“We know enough to identify plant immune receptors that prevent major crop diseases and accumulate them through genetic modification,” he said.

“[This] essentially makes them immune by reducing the need for agricultural chemicals.

“Frustratingly, six years after the Brexit vote, dysfunctional regulation still prevents such solutions from being made public.”

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