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From the editor: Are GM crops a silver bullet or another layer of divisiveness?

As this week’s FG shows, there is apparent demand among UK farmers for genetically modified (GM) crops and the ability to use gene editing techniques.

But with a consumer base growing increasingly wary of some forms of modern agricultural production, what would the reaction be at retail level?

 

I ask because as Boris Johnson was making his proclamations about GM last week, I was on a trip around eastern Canada with a levy and lobbying organisation called Grain Farmers of Ontario.

 

With almost all Ontario’s maize being GM and much of its soybeans too, GM techniques are simply seen as another item in the farmer’s toolkit for them to deploy as they see fit.

 

With soybeans there is a clear divide between the GM varieties which go mainly for animal feed, and the non-GM varieties which are increasingly heading for export to countries in Asia for products such as Tofu.

 

Yet among Canadian consumers there is a growing, albeit small, group which is backing ‘non GMO’ labelling on food products and is led by the Non-GMO Project.

 

The label has even appeared on bottled water, believe it or not, and while in its early stages, it goes to show the divide among consumers about how the technology is viewed.


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Given UK consumers’ sensitivity to food production methods, it could be feasible that such a split would occur over here. And while that should not deter us from exploring and even embracing these technologies, it would be another hurdle to overcome on the road to acceptance.

 

It also poses a question for our exporters. Does the UK want to commoditise and grow cereals that are part of the GM pack on a global level, or does it want to differentiate itself with niche products for more discerning markets.

 

With much of the rest of the world’s attitude to GM exposing the EU’s anti-tech mindset, this is another area potentially impacted by Brexit; but whether consumers share Mr Johnson’s approach, especially when applied to their food, only time will tell.

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