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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture

21 May 2024


Belgium makes last-ditch bid for deal on GMO deregulation

Belgium is looking to break a deadlock among EU governments over a proposed easing of regulation for GMO crops produced using the latest gene editing techniques, by addressing concerns over the patenting of novel seed varieties by agribusinesses.

Belgian officials have proposed that patented plant strains should be excluded from light-touch regulation for genetically modified crops produced using modern DNA editing technology, as the current holder of the EU Council presidency seeks to clinch agreement on new rules before its term expires at the end of June.

Under the compromise suggested by Belgium, to be discussed by government delegates on 22 May in an agriculture working group, applicants would have to demonstrate that a strain created with new genomic techniques (NGT) is not protected by any patents in any EU member states, and “commit not to exercise their rights on the NGT plant in the European Union as long as it is declared category 1 NGT plant status”.

16 May 2024

Farming UK

Consumers value animal welfare more than green issues, study says

Animal welfare rates higher than environmental issues when consumers choose meat and dairy products, a new study suggests. While consumers consider sustainability important, other factors such as taste, quality, and animal welfare take precedence in their purchasing decisions.

The study was conducted across five European countries - Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK - to identify the attributes that are most important to consumers buying meat or dairy products.

Across all surveyed countries, consumers consistently prioritised freshness, quality/taste, and animal welfare as the most important attributes. In contrast, environmental factors such as food miles, carbon footprint, and organic production were deemed less important in influencing purchasing decisions.

14 May 2024

BBC News

UK farms must grow more fruit and veg for food security

Farmers need to grow more fruit and vegetables to ensure the UK is not overly reliant on foreign imports, the government has warned. A new national food security index, which tracks overall production - found that just 17% of fruit and 55% of vegetables are grown in the UK.

New funding for growers was announced at a Downing Street food supply summit. Critics say the £80m scheme does not go far enough to support farmers hit by extreme weather and rising costs.The National Farmers' Union (NFU) warned that many of its members feared they would go bankrupt before they received the benefits of the extra funding.

13 May 2024

Potato News Today

As the EU stalls, leading plant breeder warns that England must not let precision breeding opportunity slip

With little progress now expected on the stalled gene editing file at EU level until 2026 at the earliest, plant breeder Nigel Moore says Britain has a golden opportunity to steal a march on our European counterparts, and to deliver on the Government’s vision to make the UK a science and technology superpower.

But he warns that this precision breeding opportunity could be at risk, due to concerns that provisions in the secondary legislation needed to implement the Precision Breeding Act might lead to unduly restrictive GM-style risk assessments and data requirements, and that the timetable for adopting the implementing regulations could be running out of road before a General Election is called.

Writing on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website, Mr Moore – a former chair of the British Society of Plant Breeders and a past president of European plant breeders’ body Euroseeds – notes that England’s Precision Breeding Act has attracted strong interest from potential investors and innovators at home and overseas.

13 May 2024

Farming UK

Wet winter could cut UK food self sufficiency by nearly 10%

UK food production could be reduced by nearly a tenth as farmers across the country have been hit by one of the wettest winters on record, new analysis warns. Estimates show that the projected reduction in key arable crops as a result of lower crop area and poor yields will reduce UK self-sufficiency across all farming sectors by 8% when measured by volume.

According to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), this is a decline from an average of 86% between 2018 and 2022 to 78% this year. The UK could become dependent on foreign imports for around a third of its wheat, with wheat self-sufficiency estimated to decline from 92% in the same period to 68%.

11 May 2024

Farmers Guardian

Agritech expert welcomes new £50m support for horticulture

The Government's decision to invest £50 million to advance the adoption of automation in crop packing and harvesting in the horticulture sector has been welcomed by a leading name in agri-food technology.

Professor Simon Pearson, founding director of the Lincoln Institute for Agri-food Technology at the University of Lincoln and co-chair of the independent Automation in Horticulture Review in 2022 with Defra Secretary of State George Eustice, said the move was ‘significant' and would ‘drive productivity' in the sector.

In a bid to boost the growing industry, the Government has committed to providing £50 million of further funding for new technology to support fully automated packhouses. It also promised there would be more support to follow to bring robotic crop pickers on a par with human pickers in three to five years.

8 May 2024


China approves first gene-edited wheat in step to open up GM tech to food crops

China has approved the safety of gene-edited wheat for the first time as Beijing cautiously moves forward with commercial growing of genetically modified food crops.

China has in the past year ramped up approvals of genetically modified (GM) corn and soybean seeds that are higher-yielding and resistant to insects and herbicide to secure its food security, but the uptake remains slow and cautious due to concerns about the impact to health and ecology.

The approval for the gene-edited disease-resistant wheat is seen as a milestone, as the ingredient - used to make pasta, noodles and bread - is predominantly grown in China for food consumption. China is the world's largest wheat producer and consumer.

7 May 2024


France revamps pesticide reduction plan in wake of farmer unrest

France unveiled on Monday a revised plan to halve pesticide use in the European Union’s biggest agricultural producer, pledging to adopt an EU indicator and boost research into alternatives in a nod to grievances voiced in farmer protests this year.

Environmental regulation was one of the main factors behind protests that swept France and parts of Europe, unsettling governments in the run-up to European elections. The French authorities have responded with extra aid and plans to simplify environmental rules, echoing steps taken at EU level. Ecology associations have attacked a watering down of European standards.

The new plan aims to halve pesticide use by 2030 compared to the 2011-2013 period on the basis of an EU indicator, called HRI1, which takes into account the chemical’s toxicity. The previous indicator, called NODU, applied by France simply calculated the volume of pesticides per hectare. Under the new indicator, France has already achieved a reduction of about 30 per cent, the government says.

1 May 2024

Financial Times

‘Russian fertiliser is the new gas’ for Europe, top producer warns

Europe is “sleep walking” into becoming dependent on Russian fertiliser, just as it did with gas, says one of the largest producers of crop nutrients.

Nitrogen fertilisers, which are important to plant growth, are made using natural gas and Russia is exporting more of it to Europe, replacing some of the gas banned by the EU, said Svein Tore Holsether, chief executive of Yara International, one of the world’s largest producers of nitrogen-based mineral fertilisers.

“Fertiliser is the new gas,” Holsether said. “It is a paradox that the aim is to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russia, and then now we are sleepwalking into handing over critical food and fertilising power to Russia.”

1 May 2024

BBC News

Scientists work to make healthier white bread

Scientists are trying to create a new type of bread that is just as healthy as wholemeal but looks and tastes like its white counterpart.

Aimed at lovers of white bread, the project has been funded by the government to improve the health benefits of UK food.

The researchers plan to add small amounts of peas, beans and cereals to the bread mix, as well as bran and wheat germ that are normally removed from white flour.

26 April 2024

Farmers Weekly

Beekeeper bemoans collapse of OSR acreage in the UK

Honeybee colonies are suffering from an early-spring pollen shortage in the farming landscape due to shortages of flowering plants such as oilseed rape, with some colonies facing starvation, say beekeepers.

Chris Manton, a bee farmer based in Brackley, Northamptonshire, produces honey from 1,500 hives under the Beekeeper Honey brand.

He told Farmers Weekly that poor weather and the declining acreage of oilseed rape is causing starvation in bee colonies this spring.

26 April 2024

BBC News

Conservation slowing biodiversity loss, scientists say

Conservation actions are effective at reducing global biodiversity loss, according to a major study.

International researchers spent 10 years looking at measures, from hatching Chinook salmon to eradication of invasive algae.

The authors said their findings offered a "ray of light" for those working to protect threatened animals and plants.

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