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Science shunned by Brussels can deliver us a green and pleasant Brexit

abc Chair Mark Buckingham has written an op-ed piece for the Telegraph, highlighting the opportunities for UK agriculture post-Brexit, provuided that the UK embraces the science and technological advances in agriculture that have been shunned by the EU. 

The whole article can be read below:

It is safe to say that the nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit is uncertain. Even for those of us paying close attention, we can be forgiven for being unsure what exactly the end game looks like. But in one area the UK is driving forward with an agenda and vision for post-Brexit Britain. To the great surprise of many, this area is farming.

After decades in which decisions about farming were made in Brussels, British farming is now experiencing the Gove effect. When he is not busy waging war on single-use plastics, the Environment Secretary is being relentlessly positive about post-Brexit opportunities for the British countryside and farming.  His radical instincts have led to his department putting forward proposals for a ‘Green Brexit’ that focusses on environmental standards. This vision is an opportunity for the agri-tech community. And it is a vision that is absolutely vital right now.

The challenge facing the agricultural community is to provide the world’s growing population with a sustainable supply of safe, nutritious and affordable food for the 21st century. It is a challenge the sector is readying itself for by innovating in countless ways. Ground-breaking developments in the use of data, technology and breeding techniques are finding favour with a new wave of farmers willing to embrace new methods, crop rotations and management ideas.

The next generation of genetic knowledge allows plant breeders to work with individual genes to help crops grow with beneficial traits such as disease and drought resistance, or enhanced growth rates.

These technologies have the potential to be hugely beneficial to UK farmers, helping to increase productivity, make more efficient use of land, and ultimately help British farmers to be more competitive globally.

Brexit has created this moment of opportunity by allowing local farming policy to embrace innovation in ways Europe has shunned– but there is a risk that campaigns based largely on emotion could stifle this chance. For years, questions have been raised about whether crop innovations are safe and environmentally friendly. And for years these concerns have been addressed by the weight of scientific evidence and global experience, after more than 20 years of widespread use of GM. The low rates of research in areas like GM crops within the EU have come about because the scientific knowledge continues to be regularly trumped by politics, justified by populist campaigns.

But there is evidence that consumers are shifting perspective. New Populus polling published today has found that young Britons are open to the use of GM and gene edited techniques, with only around 20 per cent expressing negative views, while there is significant support for other new farming methods such as the use of drones and automated tractors.

We are delighted to see young people recognise the importance of agriculture to the UK, and at the same time unsurprised that a generation brought up immersed in technology and aware of its potential is unafraid of innovation in the countryside and food supply.

Brexit is bringing uncertainty and upheaval, but our exit from the EU is a much-needed chance for the UK to once again lead the world in the application of agri-science. This is a chance to attract more inward investment, and grow research and development work undertaken here. Yet nothing should be taken for granted. The UK will need to establish a fully independent regulatory system, based on the most rigorous scientific evidence and therefore recognised globally as of the highest standard. Under such a system both UK and global consumers could be confident that UK products meet the highest safety and environmental standards.

Michael Gove’s vision for British farming is ambitious. The pressures of climate change, population growth, biodiversity and competitive trade and economics mean farmers need new tools and skills to succeed; innovative agri-science must be part of the vision. New technology, overseen by best practice regulation, can help British farmers and researchers deliver the dream of a Green and pleasant Brexit.