Farmers must do all they can to control input costs

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As is always the case, local farmers are being encouraged to do everything in their power to control input costs.

However, it could be argued that they are striving to achieve this objective with one arm tied behind their back, given the iniquitous way in which the EU continues to handle the genetically modified (GM) issue

The reality remains that the power brokers in Brussels are still taking far too long to ratify new GM crop varieties. Meanwhile the zero tolerance regulations regarding the importation of uncertified GM crops into the EU continues to make life for the local feed trade extremely difficult. If this status quo is retained, the consequences for our livestock sectors down the road could be horrendous.

Compare all of this with the news that American researchers are now using genetic manipulation to combat mastitis and a range of other animal diseases. From an EU perspective this may well be regarded as a pretty scary development – although not an altogether surprising one.

For one thing, it reflects the totally different attitude that exists towards genetic engineering in the United States, compared with Europe. Across the pond, it really is a case of anything goes.

Hardly a day goes by when one US research body or another is either announcing some form of breakthrough associated with genetic engineering or is seeking funds to carry out work of this type.

And all of this is taking place in the public domain with little or no resistance coming from consumer or environmental pressure groups.

Contrast this with the public outcry in Europe over genetically modified sugar beet, oilseed rape and maize. Literally £millions have been spent over most of the last decade carrying out trials at secret locations in order to gauge the likely environmental impact of these crops. Landowners and farmers known to have acquiesced in this work have been publicly pilloried with the result that the term ‘genetically modified’ is now synonymous with every negative image that one can conjure up when it comes to food safety and wholesomeness.

Admittedly the cause of those supporting genetic engineering in Europe has not been helped by the myriad food scares that have come to light over the past ten years. As a result genetic modification now ranks ‘proudly’ with BSE, Salmonella and Dioxins in the public’s all time food safety scare list.

So where do we go from here? Brexit may well be the stimulus that brings about a change in policy, where GM and local farming are concerned.

The current UK government has consistently argued in favour of ‘science’ being the main driver when it comes to making decisions regarding the implementation of new technologies across the board.

The recent green light to allow GM wheat trials at the Rothamsted research institute in the south of England is evidence of this commitment.

But only time will tell if this momentum will be maintained.