Support for new genetic engineering technologies is quietly growing, even amongst groups claiming to be ‘for’ sustainability, agroecology and even organic. This is happening largely behind closed doors and without the informed input of stakeholders.

In addition, there is now a global push to deregulate these technologies. It is a real and invidious threat to the widespread adoption of agroecological farming practices; yet, it is never talked about in those terms. How do we counter this threat, and how do we bring the discussion out in the open and encourage farmers, foodies and civil society groups – many of whom ignore or have abandoned the issue – to take it seriously?

This session, part of the 2021 ORFC Global will explore the state of genome editing technology today, the threat that it poses to agroecology and in particular indigenous cultures, the claim that new genetic engineering technologies are a ‘benign’ tool in the agro-sustainability toolbox and the practicalities and ethical issues around co-existence.


Maywa Montenegro de Wit is assistant professor in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her work spans the development of new biotechnologies such as CRISPR/Cas to the emergence of social movement-scientist partnerships advancing transitions to agroecological food systems, food and seed sovereignty. She holds a BA from Williams College, an MS from M.I.T., and a PhD from UC Berkeley.

Jack Heinemann is a professor of genetics and molecular biology in the School of Biological Sciences and Director of the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He was one of lead authors of the biotechnology section of 2008’s ground-breaking International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report.

Pat Thomas is a journalist, author and award-winning campaigner specialising in environment and health. She is co-founder and director of Beyond GM/A Bigger Conversation in the UK. Pat is a former editor of the Ecologist magazine, has run campaigns for Compassion in World Farming and Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Monday. She has sat on the boards of the Soil Association, the Organic Research Centre and GMO. Free USA.


Lawrence Woodward is a co-founder and former Director of the Organic Research Centre. He advises on the principles and methods of organic agriculture to a wide range of organisations and was awarded an OBE in 2001 for services to organic farming. He is a founding director of Beyond GM/A Bigger Conversation and Whole Health Agriculture and sits on the advisory board of the Gaia Foundation Seed Sovereignty Programme.