BBC News is saying that a new UK report is calling for all new farming practices to be assessed for their environmental impact. At the moment, only genetic modification requires this sort of assessment. [Reuters UK] has a slightly different perspective.

I haven’t read the report, obviously, but it seems to have emerged from one of the long-term studies of GM plants, which demonstrated that changed agronomic techniques -- such as the timing of sprays or ploughing -- had a considerable impact quite apart from the presence or absence of GM crops. So all changes to farming ought to be assessed.

Laudable though this consistency might be, I have a sneaking fear that if adopted it could spell the end of all innovation, as it will never be possible to measure the benefits to everyone’s satisfaction.

This is part of the much bigger problem of changing approaches to safety. We used to play a kind of parlour game, in which one would say things like “I've found a drug that cures aches and pains, but unfortunately it also damages the stomach lining” and argue whether it would be approved today. Or how about a machine that can move very quickly but that requires a fallible human being to keep it from hitting anything else as it does so. Oh, and by the way, it carries large amounts of an explosive liquid on board. And maybe some of the dirt that comes out it is a bit bad for human and environmental health.

Wouldn’t stand a chance. Or would it?

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