A post-Brexit Oxford at the start of 2021 would have made for endless entertainment watching the reaction of conference attendees to George Eustice’s gene editing consultation unveiling.
The announcement that Defra is to consult on the potential for gene editing will expose a number of different schisms, be that UK nations’ opposing views on gene editing, acceptance of technology in food production among the public, or even the role of Brexit itself.
Gene editing is a highly divisive issue and it would have no doubt set the halls and coffee houses of Oxford alight with excited chatter if the events had been held in person.
The announcement marks a major departure from EU policy at an early stage of life outside of the bloc. The Westminster Government has long been a proponent of gene editing, with Mr Eustice’s predecessor Michael Gove often extolling its virtues.
Yet there is no doubt it will cause further conflict with Holyrood which remains opposed to such technology despite the fact Scotland, alongside other UK nations, has some of world’s the leading scientific experts in this field.
And while it will enflame political tensions, it will also divide a farming sector which seems to be increasingly polarised along lines of environmentalism versus commercialism.
While there is a silent majority of farmers simply trying to make the best of their lot, there are others embroiled in a vocal debate between those who wish to take public money for public goods, and those who want to take a more ardent commercial approach in the post-Brexit era.
How gene editing and its potential benefits sit within those emerging factions is something which will develop, but there is no doubt that EU agriculture has existed within an ivory tower of privilege for some time and thus enabled such technologies to be wilfully shunned.
Progress waits for no one and while gene editing will not be silver bullet as we fight to feed more people in a changing climate, it is naive to think that once the technological genie is out of the bottle that it could, or should, be put back in there.