wheat
© NurPhoto
Russian blockades are preventing the export of key goods such as wheat from Ukraine, leading to rising food prices and global shortages
The production of gene-edited crops is to be sped up to help guarantee British food supplies in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine.

Russian blockades are preventing the export of key goods such as wheat from the country, leading to rising food prices and shortages globally.

Amid concern over the UK's food self-sufficiency, the Government will this week introduce a Bill which will allow farms to grow more crops by planting variants that have been edited to be more resistant to disease or need less water or fertiliser.

Although plans for the Bill have been in place since Brexit, a government source said it had taken on added importance in the wake of Ukraine.

Asked about the impact of the conflict on the plans, the source said: "It's always been quite prominent as a big Brexit benefit. But also yes - it could be good news for food security in terms of developing crops that are more resistant to disease."

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told The Telegraph: "Precision technologies allow us to speed up the breeding of crops that have a natural resistance to diseases and climate change, and better use of soil nutrients so we can have higher yields with fewer pesticides and fertilisers. Water scarcity is a coming challenge with climate change, and this technology could therefore be imperative to global food security."

Food security is also going to be a prominent part of the national food strategy White Paper expected to be published next month.

The plans were due to be unveiled earlier this year but were delayed because of the invasion and the paper will now place increased emphasis on food security.

George Eustice
© Hollie Adams/Bloomberg
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, told The Telegraph this technology 'could be imperative to global food security'
Ministers are understood to be considering introducing targets for the domestic production of food.

Britain is heavily reliant on food imports, which makes it more vulnerable to food inflation caused by global fluctuations in prices.

Last week, Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, warned of the "apocalyptic" impact Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine was having on food prices and supplies.


Comment: Perhaps if the Western world wasn't sanctioning Russia in lockstep food prices and supplies may not be skyrocketing right now. However, supply chain issues were always going to be the inevitable consequence of a government policy enforcing widespread restrictions and unnecessary lockdowns over COVID-19. After almost two years, this has no doubt had a detrimental effect on the wider global economy. The war in Ukraine is, therefore, a convenient "cover". See also: Bank of England warns of 'apocalyptic' global food shortage


The war in Ukraine is therefore a convenient "cover" See also: Bank of England warns of 'apocalyptic' global food shortage
"That is a major worry and it is not just a major worry for this country, it is a major worry for the developing world as well. Sorry for being apocalyptic but that is a major concern," he told MPs at a Treasury Select Committee.
Polish President Andrzej Duda addresses the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on Sunday
© Shutterstock/ANDRII NESTERENKO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Polish President Andrzej Duda addresses the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on Sunday
It comes as Andrzej Duda, Poland's prime minister, became the first foreign leader to address Kyiv's parliament in person on Sunday, where he warned the country not to give in to Putin.


Comment: Even if it means your population starves?


Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence sought to play down advances in Severodonetsk after Russia deployed "Terminator" tank support vehicles in the Donbas region.

And on Monday, Boris Johnson will visit a school where Ukrainian children have enrolled after fleeing the war.

In an open letter to the children of Ukraine, released on Sunday night, Mr Johnson said he was "very sad" to see youngsters absent from the streets and parks of Kyiv when he visited the capital last month, adding: "I cannot imagine how difficult this year must have been for you."

He wrote: "Since the invasion, many of you have been forced to flee your homes. You have left behind family, friends, pets, toys and all that is familiar, seeking refuge in underground stations, distant cities, even other countries. I cannot imagine how difficult this year must have been for you."

The UN has estimated that 1.7 billion people in 100 countries will be impacted by a fall in grain supplies this year from Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of Europe, and Russia.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will be presented to Parliament this week, and have its second reading in two weeks' time. It is hoped that it will be made law later this year with the first GE foods on supermarket shelves by next year.

The Bill was outlined in the Queen's Speech and is designed to "remove unnecessary barriers inherited from the EU" as well as boosting food production in the UK.

The use of the technology was initially scuppered by a 2018 ruling from the European Court of Justice that determined it should be regulated in the same way as genetic modification (GM).