I HESITATE to write anything which might inadvertently slow uptake of the incredibly successful Covid-19 vaccine programme, but the average age of farmers in Scotland is in the late 50s so it’s a fair bet that most of you have already had your jab by now, and it is too late to change your mind anyway.

I had mine without incident courtesy of Oxford/AstraZeneca, last Friday, although the nurse was quietly raging at 10 patients who had failed to turn up for theirs, citing concerns about safety.

I couldn’t understand why people would be against having the vaccine, so I popped off down an internet rabbit hole to explore and ended up in a fantasy Wonderland, which it turns out is a nightmare full of ‘Mad Hatters’ and anti-vaxxers.

Part of the problem for the anti-vaxxers is that the AstraZeneca jab is a viral vector made up from a genetic jigsaw of adenovirus (the common cold with harmful genes removed) and the coronavirus spike protein spliced in.

By July almost the entire adult population of the UK will have been directly injected with a genetically altered virus – and guess what? It is highly unlikely to harm any of us.

In fact, GM medicine has been saving lives for decades. Insulin to treat diabetes has been genetically engineered since 1978.

In Europe, however, the precautionary principle has caused delays in production and use of the new vaccines. As I write, 44% of adults in the UK have had a vaccine, whereas most of the EU is down at 13% and although supply might be an issue, the fact is that many thousands of jabs are sitting unused in fridges across western Europe.

According to Mark Lynas, writing for the Alliance for Science, “the anti-GMO and anti-vaccine movements substantially overlap. These groups tend to share an ideology that is suspicious of modern science and fetishise ‘natural’ approaches instead. Whatever ‘natural’ means.”

Note that these groups are not always marginalised to the fringe where they belong. In Europe, anti-GMO regulations have stymied any substantial use of crop biotechnology for nearly two decades, hindering efforts to make agriculture more sustainable.

And, back in July, 2020, the European Parliament actually had to suspend the EU’s anti-GMO rules in order to allow the unimpeded development of Covid-19 vaccines. Very embarrassing for Brussels! Will the anti-GMO and anti-vaxxer movements use their usual scaremongering tactics to drum up fear, increase vaccine hesitancy and thereby prolong the hell of the Covid-19 pandemic?

That remains to be seen, but if they do succeed, then tragically many more people will die and our economies will continue to suffer. It’s up to all of us – the grassroots pro-science movement – to stop them.”

In case you were under the misapprehension that Mark Lynas is a rabid capitalist working for big business, he is in fact a respected environmental activist and journalist.

What has all this got to do with farming? A few things.

Firstly, it should guide us to revisit the gene editing debate in agriculture – if genetic engineering is ok for medicine, why is it unacceptable for agriculture?

If we remain silent about the potential environmental benefits from the use of gene editing in crop research, the Mad Hatters have won. Fake truth must be confronted and exposed or we will never escape Wonderland.

Secondly, it should show us that the precautionary principle has no place in the scientific evaluation of new technologies. It has demonstrably cost lives in Europe during the pandemic by delaying development, procurement and deployment of a life-saving vaccine.

If you are standing in front of a fast-moving train, it’s a good idea to move out of the way quickly. Clearly NOT doing something is sometimes more risky than doing something, and the precautionary principle doesn’t take that into account.

Last, but not least, politicians are very fond of proclaiming what the public wants and doesn’t want, but if you present the facts to them, they are quite capable of making informed choices.

The overwhelming uptake of genetically engineered Covid-19 vaccines quite clearly shows that if the benefits are tangible and outweigh any imaginary risks, the public doesn’t give a damn if something is genetically altered, they will be happy to have it injected into their shoulders all day long.

We should trust the public with the truth more. We should not be scared to explain the huge part gene editing could play in reducing pesticides, reducing nitrogen use, improving yields and quality and reducing waste and carbon footprint on farms.

At this moment, we are standing in front of an oncoming train called global warming and we need to take evasive action. Green gene editing could help us to safety.

It’s time to wake up from Wonderland and come back into the real world.