In a blaze of publicity Rothamstead (24/1/14) has announced an application to grow an open air crop of Camelina Sativa engineered with synthetic omega 3 genes that trigger the production of the fish oil in the seeds of the harvested crop.
This GM crop is an interesting, even remarkable, piece of biotech science but has taken some 15 years to develop but is sadly just another example of a GM ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’ has already been addressed by conventional plant breeders.
On the same day that Rothamstead Research was announcing to the world their plans to trial their GM solution behind security fencing in Hertfordshire I was talking with the people at Technology Crops lLd who have already developed a nonGM crop from which omega 3 long chain fatty acids can be extracted.
Called Ahiflower (www.ahiflower.com) this plant has been identified and developed in partnership by Techcrops and NIAB and is already growing in UK fields on a commercial scale.
To my thinking Ahiflower ticks a number of the sustainability boxes:
- Financially viable yield offering the grower a gross margin around £900/ha
- Access to the lucrative health food and food supplements market
- The agronomy has been worked out and at this time the plant is demonstrating a good resistance to disease and pest attack
- The crop is easy to harvest and resists shedding its seed before harvest
- Offers a spring sown break crop with the potential to control pernicious weeds and crop pests in the combinable crop rotation
- Open flowering habit will provide a valuable in crop food source to pollinators and beneficial insects
- Already being grown on a commercial scale on ‘pioneer’ farms in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire
- Technology Crops are actively recruiting growers to expand the crop area
- The intellectual property rights are protected by the royalties system and not by the restrictive patents regime
- Joint ownership between Technology Crops and NIAB offering the potential for a return on taxpayer investment in its development
From the point of view of the lucrative health food market Ahiflower offers a source of omega 3 that is not only free of the contaminants found in fish oil but, importantly, is free of association with GM crops.
The only areas of concern with the advent of Ahiflower as a broadacre crop that I can identify is firstly the possibility of cross pollination with its rare indigenous wild relative, corn gromwell, and secondly I have to question why omega 3 nutritional supplements are necessary when there is sufficient omega 3 in a balance healthy diet to maintain wellbeing.
Yet again science is finding solutions to the problems caused by the excesses and failings of the processed food industry.