SHOCK, HORROR and hold the front page. A new era of scientific enlightenment seems to be dawning across the European Union.

One swallow cannot make a summer, or in this case overturn years of ignoring science in favour of the precautionary principle, but progress is always welcome. The European Commission has finally accepted that its negative stance on all genetic modification may be wrong. Potentially even more significant is that it is at last considering that science in agricultural techniques could be a road to reducing carbon emissions from the industry.

The carbon plan is at an early stage. Brussels has agreed to trials of various systems on farms to tackle this problem. This is a long way from becoming policy, but carbon reduction is a long term game, rather than the overnight measures some politicians try to suggest with their quick answers and dramatic green policies. This should be noted by Scottish officials, who have been accused of seeing only a reduction in livestock numbers as a way to tackle the need to cut carbon output. On that basis it is research the incoming Scottish government should be watching carefully.

The Commission is effectively suggesting that agriculture and forestry should be seen as part of the solution and not just as the main problem. Its research, over two years under practical farm conditions, will look at how agricultural land can be used to lock up carbon from the atmosphere. This has long been recognised as something properly managed grassland and forestry can deliver. This may go hand in hand with some reduction in livestock numbers, but the focus will be on the positives farming potentially offers rather than the negatives.

It is even suggesting that in time farmers could be paid for their role in locking up carbon. This is a good example of the carrot being wielded rather than the stick, even if it is a long road from trials to practicality. However there is a lesson to be learned from the Brussels approach. Progress is often only achieved by those who think beyond the traditional box. In history that has been how all technical gains have been made. The playing field remains the same in terms of more efficient farming methods, but green pressures are changing the goals from production efficiency and output to carbon management.

For years the European Commission has been opposed to all genetic modification techniques. This was encouraged and manipulated by a minority of member states, often using the EU's bizarre majority voting system to block progress. This was seen as a line in the sand by pressure groups. Now Brussels is making a distinction between gene editing, which it is calling new genomic techniques (NGIs) and traditional GM. The difference is that NGIs are about manipulating the existing genome to produce desirable characteristics, such as drought or disease resistance. This is now being portrayed as a solution that could contribute to a greener approach to farming. Where this differs radically from traditional GM science is that it is not about introducing genes from other species.

This could overcome key objections to this science. The Commission, in its statement in advance of a public consultation on a change of strategy, went so far as to say its original legislation on GM, introduced in 2001, is no longer fit for purpose. This suggests its mind is made up, since it would make little sense, regardless of what pressure groups say, to stick with a policy it has declared unfit for the future. If this change of direction is confirmed it will come as a relief for the UK government. It has effectively committed to allowing gene editing in agriculture. If the EU had remained opposed to this technology it would have created another potential trade barrier.

Instead there is a strong case for UK and EU scientists working together to accelerate progress in this area, which has the potential to accelerate years of traditional cross breeding techniques to deliver progress. This adds weight to the argument that cutting carbon levels reaching the atmosphere is not about simplistic solutions, such as reducing livestock numbers or changing our diets away from red meat and dairy products.

Just as science proved Thomas Malthus wrong in the late 1700s, when he forecast the human race would grow faster than the available food supply, science will be the answer to the challenge of delivering truly radical green outcomes.