Examination of Witness

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:29 pm on 30 June 2022.

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Paul Temple gave evidence.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 3:50, 30 June 2022

Good afternoon, and welcome. We have until 4.10 pm for this session. I would be grateful if you could introduce yourself for the record with your name and position.

Paul Temple:

My name is Paul Temple. I am a mixed farmer up in east Yorkshire. I have arable crops and beef suckler cattle, and I manage environmental stewardship ground. We also carry out conservation agricultural practice. I am a seed grower and have worked most of my life dealing with co-existence and integrity issues. I took part many years ago in the Government’s field-scale evaluation trials.

I have been involved with EU farming organisations for many years, and I am currently a director of the Global Farmer Network. I have been fortunate to travel the world and understand what farmers are doing on all levels in virtually every continent. I am probably here because I am a participant in Science for Sustainable Agriculture. Genuinely, in the 40 years of my farming, I have never had a farming circumstance to contend with like we have at the moment.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Thank you very much. We will move on to questions, starting with the Minister.

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Good afternoon, Mr Temple. I wonder if I could ask you on a broad basis what you, as a member of the farming community and somebody with vast experience in farming and seed production, feel the likely uptake by farmers of precision bred products and technologies will be. What is your experience from other countries of PBOs? Could you speak a little about how you manage co-existence currently and whether you think the same regime will continue?

Paul Temple:

That is quite a lot.

Paul Temple:

I took part in the field-scale evaluation trials because I was sceptical, but I have always had an interest in science. I participated because it would expose me to field-scale working with these crops. I then realised my naivety about the amount of science and genetics behind breeding. I certainly learned, to my horror, how the quality of the scientists tended to be lumped against those protesting with a subjective view rather than an objective view. I learned then about appreciating the science behind genetics, but I would not have done unless I had participated.

A lot of farmers in the UK will not have been exposed to what I have, so they will not appreciate it. With farmers, you tend to find that if something works and is of benefit, they are pretty quick adopters. They tend to adopt it most when they have seen other farmers adopt it. I adopted conservation agricultural practice because I had seen that it did work. I am hoping that trials will happen as part of this to allow farmers to see it first hand in their own geographic region. Then they will make their own decisions. Usually if something works, they are pretty quick at picking something up.

Across the world, I think my frustration, especially being involved in Europe, is with Spanish farmers. I have seen GM maize grown in Spain, and they grow it because they had a problem. GM solved the problem, and they use a lot less water to produce more crop. It just made pure commercial sense, and that primarily is what drives it. It is usually a matter of making commercial sense. GM delivers benefits in terms of reduced inputs. It usually comes with significant environmental benefit, because you are reducing your pesticides load, and that tends to get mixed up. Again, from a UK perspective, because I have seen what happens in south and north America, I understand the scale of adoption and what it has delivered into the marketplace in meeting China’s demand for maize and soya, which is unusual for most farmers.

On the co-existence element, we obviously had to closely monitor it when we were growing these crops. We did not change any practices, found no problems looking after the crops and found no problems subsequently with volunteers that might be left over. We continued with trials on those, and that was not an issue. Co-existence really is not much of a problem. In any country I have been to, that is not the issue. It is usually the access to it that is a limitation. It has always fascinated me that a lot of the small farmers in Africa and Asia are given access to technology in a way that you cannot appreciate, which delivers benefit to them. Have I missed anything out?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, that was perfect. It was an interesting contrast between the field—literally—and to how this can help on a global basis, rather than from a more academic standpoint. It is an interesting juxtaposition to what we heard earlier. Thank you very much.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q Good afternoon and welcome. I do not know how much of a chance you have had to look at the details of the Bill, but it proposes a notification system and a public register. How supportive of that approach are you, and what effect do you think they will have?

Paul Temple:

Obviously, I am not an expert in these particular areas, but I do not think we have anything to hide, so public registers—registers of seed varieties and what we are growing—are really important. What you put in the public domain, to my mind, has to be measured by what benefit or what risk there actually is. I suppose my frustration with the field scale evaluation trials was that, by making everything public, it just highlighted those who wanted to protest, rather than actually look at the science. So I think is it really important that whatever element goes into this Bill is done from a science perspective and a risk-based perspective. I do not have any problem with being open as to what is happening on my farm. I think it is really important, but there just has to be some kind of sensible balance, so that it does not drag things down to where you cannot do anything.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q On labelling and transparency, you have probably seen the research from the Food Standards Agency showing that the public would like to know more about where their food comes from. I think that is a growing trend in general. What do you feel about the labelling issues?

Paul Temple:

Labelling is really important, but what I would pass back to you for a start is that 30 million tonnes of GM material comes into Europe, and there has never been a requirement for labelling through to the feed process, and that is on modification. This is not modified, and I think that is really important; it is not modified. This could be achieved through conventional breeding, and as such I do not think it needs specific labels. Again, to my mind, you do it from a risk-based perspective. If there is not a risk, there is no need to actually label it as such.

Going back to the global aspect, we are in a global marketplace and what we do not want to do is put ourselves out of kilter with the rest of the world and create double standards or unnecessary work. It needs to be measured and there needs to be awareness, but I do not think it should be stoked by those who seek to feed on the fear factor.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q You may or may not have heard the evidence from our previous witness from the Agricultural Industries Confederation, who expressed concern—pretty much using the language that you have just used—that we are out of kilter with other places, particularly Europe, and that that could have a dampening effect on these developments. Do you share that view?

Paul Temple:

I very much share the view that if you are out of kilter, as a net importer, you risk causing yourself problems. Again, it is about following the science. I have been to America a number of times and I have sat with the USDA in Washington. Those guys have huge quantities of experience of managing a rapidly moving area of science. To my mind, they are the people with the most experience in this field. You should speak to them and ask them how they manage something that is actually being put out into fields now. You should go to the people with experience of managing it.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26)

Q Mr Temple, you said that you do not want farmers to be out of kilter with the rest of the world, but as we have heard today, and as I have read—this is one of the Scottish Government’s concerns—we may be out of kilter with Europe’s approach to GM and gene edited foods. Does that concern you? Some of the farmers that you come into contact with must export their goods to Europe. We have heard that there is the possibility for products to get through on a product-by-product basis, but that sounds kind of costly and would take up a lot of time. Are you not concerned about that?

Paul Temple:

I have always been concerned about the approach that Europe has taken. However, there seems to be a more conciliatory approach on the necessity of enabling the technology. We will see, but there does seem to be some element of progress. What I find really interesting is the gene edited wheat that has been put out in Argentina. It is in fields in New Zealand and Australia, and the US pretty much accepts it. That facilitates trade. When countries like Argentina, which are massive net exporters, are willing to adopt this technology and look at its safety, there is a huge amount we can learn from that.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26)

Q Although we heard from earlier witnesses that places like Argentina seem to have rather more regulations in place than this Bill allows for. Does that not worry you a bit?

Paul Temple:

I am worried about us immersing ourselves in introspection and not moving at pace, based on science. I say that because I have been watching crops grow using all sorts of breeding techniques for years, and I have stood watching from the sidelines. I am slightly terrified that, if we do not get on with this, I will remain watching it from the sidelines. I say that because I am probably more aware than most of how vulnerable our production actually is and how necessary it is to have access to the breeding techniques and research in this field. I hoped that one of the things that Brexit might allow is a swifter ability to look at the science behind this and give those involved in research and breeding the ability to get on with it, on a science-based approach. There is always a concern when you get out of kilter with other countries.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26)

Q Do you think this approach will in any way make up for the impact of Brexit? Do you agree with the Government’s thinking that it might make some headway, in terms of the big impact on farming and agriculture from Brexit?

Paul Temple:

Put Brexit to one side. This science is just too important to be immersed in those kinds of things. I am faced with a huge rise in my cost of production. I am looking constantly to reduce pesticides and fertiliser and to give my crops the ability to cope with the extremes of weather. I have a six-course rotation, and at the end of that six-course rotation, yet again I will need something that responds to the requirement to produce more against the rising cost of production. I see this, from a science point of view, as really important. From a UK point of view, we should be able to respond a little quicker because we do not have the decision-marking chains that you have in Brussels. I have seen the process and I know how it slows things down. I simply hope that we are now capable of responding to the science more quickly.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

If there are no more questions, I thank you for your time and evidence and we will move on to our next witness.