IF YOU have a favourite rose, dog breed, or any other preference in a wider range of species then you have an interest in the effects of gene editing.

It’s a topic that has become the subject of a great debate in the farming world but one that has been largely passed over in the petrol and shopping queues, with worries over pigs being put down but not to be eaten or whether there will be enough turkeys for Christmas dominating headlines.

GE and GM are very different, and not just because the second letter of the acronym changes. It’s not that which brings such violent protest against GM but something deeper. GE has been going on for years but was always called selective breeding. If you wanted a Jack Russell in preference to a French Bulldog - avoid either, one snaps, the other wheezes - my advice is to get a Labrador that will love you to death and put on weight just like you do, prompting another walk in the woods.

The thing is that the process in developing these breeds took time. Effects could be seen and the worst traits hopefully avoided, except in the case of the aforementioned small dogs. But it’s a topic you should get your teeth into and research so you understand the vital differences between GE and GM for yourselves. I’m not going to express an opinion on either.

GE undertaken by scientists with a commercial interest will, like GM, lead to patents being registered and inaccessibility of the new genetic lines to those who won’t pay to use them. It won’t be done out of benevolence or the desire to create a new flower that has a colour or scent like no other, one that can wow the crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show in some crazy “garden” creation.

GE, like GM, is all about creating species with traits that make them better at what they do. That’s why cereal plants with shorter stems were developed through a natural selection process after the last war. They put their energy into producing less straw and more grain, becoming weather resistant while helping to feed the world. GE selects what’s there naturally and breeds traits into future generations to create something different but still natural although at a much faster rate than the old methods. GM, on the other hand, brings genetic material from entirely different species and creates a new one with alien traits. They are resistant to certain chemicals that kill weed species, which is why crop science and agri-chemicals combine to become such big business.

The problem UK farmers face is that we sell on the natural quality of our produce. Any whiff of mucking about with “nature” hints at being no better than the stuff we are resisting coming in under new trade deals. It’s a complicated issue with a wide array of ramifications and will be a hard sell to be understood and accepted. Adopting it without microscopic examination of the consequences, despite the UK government endorsing it in principle, could have dire long-term effects on the future of UK farming.

Kevin Prince has wide experience of farming and rural business in Hampshire, where he lives near Andover, and across southern England as a director in the Adkin consultancy. His family also run a diversified farm with commercial lets, holiday cottages and 800 arable acres.