Would gene-editing technology provide the best security for domestic food production

By Bill Heaney

During the Second World War it was labelled Dig for Victory. That was because the conflict prevented farmers and gardeners from growing sufficient supplies of food to feed the nation.

There were labour shortages and cash shortages just as there are now during the cost of living crisis.

An indication of how bad things were then and are again now for families and farmers came in the Scottish Parliament this week when the Conservative Party’s deputy leader Meghan Gallacher asked the SNP government to reveal their position what is now called Farm-to-fork Food Production.

Inspired no doubt by rapidly rising prices, emptying shelves and all-round shortages, she asked: “What is the Scottish Government’s position on the greater use of farm-to-fork methods to encourage domestic food production. “
The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, replied: “The government is, of course, hugely supportive of greater use of farm-to-fork methods to encourage domestic food production and consumption.
“As an example, £490,000-worth of funding is being provided through the food for life programme over the course of this financial year so that more locally sourced, healthier food is provided in schools.
“We are also funding a Glasgow-based pilot on expanding the principles of the food for life programme into the wider public sector.

“It was important that we were able to talk about some of those issues in yesterday’s food and drink debate, and it is fantastic to be able to discuss food and drink in Scotland and to celebrate our superb natural larder during the current food and drink fortnight.”

Meghan Gallacher asked: “Given that the European Commission has softened its approach to gene-editing technology over the summer, will the cabinet secretary not recognise, as the Scottish Conservatives do, that the use of gene-editing technology would provide the best security for domestic food production in Scotland?”

Conservative MSP Megan Gallacher, left, and SNP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, Mairi Gougeon. Sandwiches, cakes and scones being served at Cardross Parish Church. Food starts out on farms, but only a few folk ever think of that.

But she was told there was no “rush to legislate” and that the UK government had done it “simply to prove a point about being different from the European Union”.

“Unlike the UK Government, we would like to take the time to consider the gene-editing proposals fully and to understand what the implications of the use of such technology would be for Scotland.”

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP) expressed dismay at the Gallacher approach to food production.

She said: “Given that the free trade agreements threaten to harm domestic production and flood our market with imported goods of lesser quality, I find it ironic that Meghan Gallacher has asked such a question.

“Given the Scottish Government’s commitment to active farming and food production, does the cabinet secretary agree that the best thing that the Tories could do to help to ensure the future of domestic food production is lobby their colleagues in the UK Government to provide funding clarity for the agriculture sector post-2025?

And Mairi Gougeon added: “Absolutely, because right now we have absolutely no clarity on long-term funding and what that will look like beyond 2025. So far, the Treasury has provided only yearly allocations—no commitment has been made beyond those.

“Whoever is in power at Westminster, we need to know how much funding we will have to support farming and other rural priorities. I absolutely share the frustration that our farmers and food producers have expressed about the lack of future budget clarity.

“We also need to have a fair funding settlement that will not be cut arbitrarily from year to year by Westminster, so that we can create a multi-annual framework. We would, of course, get all of that if Scotland was independent and back in the EU.”

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