The European Court of Justice has just delivered a scientifically absurd ruling, in defiance of advice from its advocate general, but egged on by Jean-Claude Juncker’s allies. It will ensure that more pesticides are used in Britain, our farmers will be less competitive and researchers will leave for North America. Thanks a bunch, your honours.
By saying that genome-edited crops must be treated to expensive and uncertain regulation, it has pandered to the views of a handful of misguided extremists, who no longer have popular support in this country.
Let’s compare two plant varieties: golden promise barley and a wheat resistant to a fungal pest called powdery mildew. The barley was derived from seeds bombarded with gamma rays at a nuclear facility in the 1950s, scrambling some of their genes, which had the happy if accidental result of making better malting barley. It became (and remains) a popular variety for brewing beer among (wait for it!) organic farmers.
The wheat was produced by Calyxt, a US company, last year using a genome-editing technique to tweak one part of one gene, introducing no foreign DNA. It will need less fungicide sprayed on it than normal wheat. The US government says it needs no special regulation. The EU has effectively said it will take Calyxt many years and vast sums of money to find out whether it might or might not approve the wheat for growing.
Calyxt and others like it won’t bother applying, so we will be deprived of the chance to use less fungicide. We will miss out on a new genome-edited potato variety that needs 80 per cent less spray. We are already missing out on GM varieties of maize and other crops that use much less insecticide and are proven safe by 25 years of consumption.
The ruling condemns Britain to the innovation slow lane, denying us greener crops. It will deter investment and drive our world-class scientists to move abroad. As one Canadian professor said: “Great news for Canadian and American farmers today. EU based environmental NGOs have politically manipulated their legal system to drive every last cent of ag R&D out of the EU, guaranteeing their farmers will no longer be competitive. Hope all Europeans enjoy their future higher food prices.”
Welcome to our continuing regulatory alignment with the EU.
Matt Ridley is a scientist, journalist, and businessman. He is a board member of HumanProgress.org.