Some Hopes and Wishes for 2018

Time keeps rolling on and we need to try to keep up

For those of you who grew up listening to Prince’s song ‘1999’, it’s a bit amazing that we are now only 2 years shy of 2020. However, time marches on and waits for no one. As much as I teach and speak about innovation and the changes it brings, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept on a personal basis. As a society, we love innovation and the changes it brings, it’s just when they affect us on an individual level that we grumble. Technology is advancing so rapidly these days it frequently embarrasses me as to how often I have to admit that I’ve not heard what younger adults or my own kids are talking about. I will admit that I’m now part of the generation that has to get their kids to set up their new electronics.

Having been involved with agriculture all my life and academically for nearly 20 years, there are a few hopes and wishes for 2018 that would benefit farmers, consumers and most importantly, the food insecure.

Biotechnological acceptance

One major hope for the New Year is that the European Union finally releases their position on their plan to regulate the products of gene editing. eNGOs have lobbied intensively to have these products regulated as GMOs, ensuring that the present regulatory gridlock remains in place and that not a single product will be commercialized. Preferably, the EU will decide in favour of innovation, ruling that gene editing is conventional plant breeding, using digital biology technology. A ruling of this nature will have tremendous benefits for public sector plant breeding in developing countries, particularly Africa. The environment would benefit considerably from this as I estimated a few years ago that about 70% of the canola production is zero tillage due to the efficient weed control provided by GM canola, while conservation tillage is less than 40% for most of Europe. European farmers would experience greater moisture conservation and reduced erosion, by being able to adopt new crop varieties that are tolerant to chemicals used in agriculture and food production.

Regulating labels

The proper enforcement of labelling regulations would greatly benefit consumers. Preventing products from being identified as ‘Non-GMO’ when there is no possible GM option would be an excellent start, to not only inform consumers with correct information, but it would also lower the cost of these food products. Numerous fruits and vegetables have incorrectly been labelled as being non-GM, creating confusion for consumers as to what products could actually be GMO. Sadly, corporate greed disguised as consumer information is driving the non-GMO labelling initiative. When no GM alternative exists are firms that label these products as non-GMO concerned about helping their consumer or more interested in higher sales revenues?

Those that are food insecure lost an incredible scientist and advocate for improved food security in Africa with the late 2017 passing of Calestous Juma. While many have become involved in supporting agricultural innovation in Africa, there is no shortage of obstacles facing improved food security for 2018. Many countries are bound by rigid biosafety legislation developed in partnership with eNGOs that is making it challenging to gain approval to release new plant varieties. Insects and plant diseases don’t rest, they will continue to attack plants that provide food and without new varieties with improved resistance to both stresses, food insecurity will remain where it is, which is far too high a level. Many developing countries would benefit from no longer being bound by the innovation stifling demands of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and encouraging countries to withdraw from the CPB would be a promising thing in 2018.

We at SAIFood look forward to bringing more information and awareness about research and policy. The popular student blogs will be returning this month and will be regularly published over the next few months. Wishing all the best to everyone in 2018.

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