ORGANIC GROWERS have taken a broadside from a Conservative peer, who charged them with hypocrisy over pesticides, and called on them to embrace gene editing as a means towards chemical free farming.

Referring to the temporary and limited derogation granted for the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments on sugar beet seed after the crop’s devastation by virus yellows infestation in 2020, Viscount Ridley – a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee – said the Government had been right to do so, despite howls of protest from the organic and anti-pesticide lobby.

The Viscount noted that the same objectors had 'conveniently overlooked' a similar emergency derogation granted in 2020 to spray copper hydroxide as a blight fungicide on organically grown potatoes, a decision advised against by the Expert Committee on Pesticides due to environmental concerns over acute aquatic toxicity.

“Unless we are prepared to let our food crops rot in the fields, or to become vectors for harmful and potentially lethal mycotoxins spread by insect pests and crop infections, then we must enable technologies which control these pests and diseases," said Viscount Ridley.

"The same risk of infestation applies whether crops are grown conventionally or organically."

He highlighted the potential for new breeding technologies such as gene editing to accelerate the development of crop varieties with better and more durable pest and disease resistance, such as virus yellows resistance in sugar beet or late blight resistance in potatoes – and noted the Government’s public consultation on genetic technologies, due to report shortly, as an opportunity to embrace these game-changing technologies and 'resume our role as a world leader in innovation'.

“I suspect many consumers would be concerned to learn that certified organic potatoes on sale in our supermarkets had been treated with a banned fungicide classed as toxic to aquatic life," he jibed.

"Like others before me, I would therefore urge the organic lobby to keep an open mind on the potential of these precision breeding techniques to enable more environmentally friendly farming and food production in the future."