'The government in London must stick to a positive view of this science and show the farming industry that Brexit promises to make it more globally competitive can be delivered'

The government finally has a chance to prove that the independence of Brexit can deliver for farming and the food industry.

It is succeeding with legislation to allow gene editing within a single plant genome. This accelerates what would be achieved with conventional breeding techniques and will ultimately create a new tool box to develop desirable characteristics for yields and the environment more quickly and more efficiently.

This is different to genetic modification, in that it does not alter the genome. The European Commission, like the UK, is enthusiastic about the benefits it could bring – but unlike the UK its proposals have run straight into trouble.

This is partly its own fault, in that while its draft legislation stresses the benefits of the science it also raises issues of basic and more extensive gene editing and concepts around transparency and labelling.

This is despite its efforts to protect the science by describing it not as gene editing but as novel genomic techniques, or NGT. This is to separate it from GM, but based on first reactions to the EU proposals they are running into the same green morass that has frustrated even modest GM science in Europe for decades.

In theory this is an area where Brexit could deliver a different, more global approach that would exploit the many green benefits of gene editing – a science that like AI is still in its infancy in terms of its potential to change agriculture.

However, we could yet fall victim to the EU approach around labelling, which has the potential to flag up as different something that is in fact no different to conventional breeding techniques. The EU is our biggest export market and it could demand that NGT products from a third country are labelled.

Equally, the UK is the EU's biggest export market for food, so products from there may carry NGT labelling, raising unnecessary consumer concerns.

In Europe, the Commission proposals have been widely welcomed by the farming, food and agricultural services sector, but opposed with a vengeance by a newly energised green lobby. This is not a battle Brussels can risk losing by allowing a beneficial science to be treated the same way as genetic modification.

Over the EU plan the green lobby is not seeking amendments, but wants member states and the European parliament to reject the entire plan for NGT. Their aim is to ignore the green benefits of the science, which are many, and to instead seek to demonise it to make it as as unacceptable in Europe as GM.

If they win that argument it will make a joke of the billions being invested in the EU Horizon science programme, which the UK is at last set to join. The green arguments against NGT are even less logical than those put forward in the industrial revolution by the Luddites who went around breaking machinery because it threatened their jobs.

NGT will instead help maintain jobs in farming and food as it becomes a greener sector of the EU economy. The government in London must stick to a positive view of this science and show the farming industry that Brexit promises to make it more globally competitive can be delivered.

Staying with science – or should that be anti-science – the European Commission has produced a defence of its plans to reduce pesticide use. This is part of its Farm to Fork green deal plans for the CAP, focussed on alternatives to existing pesticides. Its target is a 50% reduction by 2030.

This is widely seen as ambitious and concerns have been raised about the impact on food security. However, Brussels has defended its plan, claiming the goal can be achieved without pressure on food security.

Questions had been raised by member states, with many questioning whether the plan should be delayed because of concerns around food prices. However, Brussels has insisted the move to what it describes as a 'mores sustainable use of plant protection products' does not threaten food security.

It says this conclusion is not affected by the war in Ukraine, adding that because of climate change failure to deliver would have 'long term and potentially irreversible' effects on food security. It will now be up to member states to decide whether to accept the Commission's business as usual approach to its planned massive curb on pesticide use.

It is also a lead the UK must avoid following!