THE PROBLEM with politicians is that the system within which they work does not motivate them to do the right thing.

Instead, their main imperative is to get elected and stay elected. Sometimes that might, quite by coincidence, involve them doing the right thing, but equally it can find them doing entirely the wrong thing. All that matters is that the voting public's fleeting attention be gripped just long enough to leave a positive impression, perhaps even raise a round of applause, then clear the room double-quick before some ingrate starts asking for details.

We see this dynamic played out all around us this week. Faced with the horrific prospect of tabloid front pages trumpeting food shortages – never a vote-winner – Boris Johnson fair near tripped over himself in the rush to fling money at the chemical company which had temporarily turned off the taps on production of CO2 for the white meat abattoir market.

In the circumstances, this was the right thing to do. Nevermind that the government has known for several years about this CO2 vulnerability and could easily have dealt with it sooner, along with dozens of other such commercial bear-traps strewn around our increasingly just-in-time food supply chain. But there's no political gain in doing stuff the public doesn't see the need for yet. Which brings us to gene editing, and its relationship with genetic modification, and thus its relationship with the mainstream press and headlines with the word 'Frankenfoods' in them. Boris walks a fine line here. His supporters in that self-same mainstream press want to see him stuff it to the EU bureaucrats upon whose lengthy ridiculing he has built his rebellious persona, so ripping up EU precautions against this technology – just to prove he can – ticks several (ballot) boxes. But it also risks blundering into the tabloid trap of hyped-up food scares and loss of public trust in our producers.

Is Mr Johnson really expecting a gene-editing revolution to spring up from the UK's crop research powerhouses? Or was this pro-technology, anti-regulation stance intended as a flirtatious wink to the United States, which would very much like the UK market to get shot of its leftover EU barriers to ultra-processed products and embrace the full gamut of genetic modification. In short, is Mr Johnson doing the right thing for the right reason, or the wrong thing for the wrong reason, and will the UK public even know the difference when it lands with a plop on their dinnerplates?