Food crisis: Gene-edited crops to SLASH production costs as UK enjoys post-Brexit freedoms


As inflation in the UK rises, fears have also been mounting over Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports, which could send food prices soaring. Ukraine has been unable to export a staggering 25 million tonnes of grain, and as Britain relies on food imports, this has sparked panic. Ian Wright, Industry Co-Chair Director General Food and Drink Federation, warned last month that “things could get quite scary, with significant price rises and in terms of food poverty”.

“This is a bigger crisis than energy. If the Government has plans, it needs to share what those plans are more widely.”

But as fears of food price rises persist, Professor Jonathan Jones, senior scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory, told that there is a way to eventually “bring down production costs”.

While the EU has banned genetically modified crops for decades, the Genetic Technology Bill was introduced to Parliament in May to “cut red tape and support the development of innovative tech to grow more resistant, more nutritious, and more productive crops”.

Explaining the process behind gene-edited crops, Pro Jones said: “Consider you have a tasty tomato in a glasshouse variety, and you want to use a mutation such as self-pruning which enables a more compact growth habit for that tasty variety.

“You want a compact tasty variety. You can either take 6- 8 generations (2-3 years) of back crossing of the self-pruning gene into the tasty genetic background, or you can use editing to make the self-pruning mutation in the tasty background (~6 months).

“So, maybe (these technologies could speed up the breeding of crops by) 4 times faster for this kind of application.”

He added: “These methods can accelerate the production of new improved varieties.

“There is great potential for these methods to gradually bring down the costs associated with food production by increasing yield, decreasing losses and agricultural inputs.”

READ MORE: Energy crisis: Sturgeon slapped down over North Sea oil power grab

Prof Jones said: “Crop improvement by plant breeding is a long-term process.

“Plant Breeders are now working on the varieties that will be grown in farmer’s fields in 2030.

“Even if good gene editing events were identified and commercially approved today, it will take a long time to increase the plant population carrying such events to a size large enough to plant on sufficient hectares to make a difference to food prices in the next year or two.”


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