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Key developments in science and technology in agriculture

2 February 2023

BBC News

Bird flu 'spills over' to otters and foxes in UK

The largest ever outbreak of bird flu is spilling over into mammals, including otters and foxes in the UK. Figures released to the BBC show the virus has led to the death of about 208 million birds around the world and at least 200 recorded cases in mammals.

Public health bosses warn the mutation in mammals could see a jump to humans but the risk to the public is very low. There will now be more targeted surveillance and testing of animals and humans exposed to the virus in the UK.

1 February 2023

BBC News

Land use: Government has overpromised says Royal Society

The UK government risks "overpromising" finite land with its multiple ambitions on farming, nature and renewable energy, according to a report from scientific academy The Royal Society. It says an area the size of Northern Ireland could be needed to accommodate current policy targets by 2030.

Farming and forestry groups have welcomed the report and say it shows the need for a UK land-use framework. The report, from the UK National Academy of Sciences, concludes that current policies on land use are "disjointed" and there needs to be more innovative approaches to get the most out of our land.

"The UK does not have enough land for any of it to be non-productive," said the report's steering group chairman, Sir Charles Godfray, who is director of Oxford University's Oxford Martin School. "But when we say productive, we don't just mean producing food but producing public good, as well."

31 January 2023

Farming UK

Most farmers to adopt nature friendly practices 'on 15% of land by 2030'

Defra has announced a five-year delivery plan to improve the the environment, which includes incentivising most farmers to adopt nature-friendly practices on at least 10 to 15% of their land by 2030.

The government has today published its Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, which includes actions to "halt and then reverse the decline in nature".

For the farming industry, the plan requires 65 to 80% of farmers to adopt nature friendly farming practices on at least 10-15% of their land by 2030. They will also be supported to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows a year by 2050.

29 January 2023

Farmers Guardian

Concerns over antimicrobial resistance branded as 'silly'

Calls by MPs to ban the routine use antibiotics in livestock over concerns about antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have been branded as “silly” by farming minister Mark Spencer.

In a House of Commons debate on the use of antibiotics in agriculture, Labour MP Virendra Sharma said the UK risked“ sleepwalking into another health emergency” due to the amounts of antibiotics routinely given to farm animals.

27 January 2023

Farming UK

UK dairy sector losing ground on productivity, data shows

Productivity on UK dairy farms has fallen over the last decade, while other major dairy producing countries have seen stable or increasing productivity.

Data from the International Farm Comparison Network (IFCN) shows that productivity on the typical UK dairy farm has declined.

Productivity is the amount of output produced, compared with the amount of input required – it is a measure of efficiency.

24 January 2023


UK allows emergency use of bee-toxic pesticides after EU tightens rules

The UK government has allowed the emergency use of banned bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides in England for the third year in a row just days after the EU ruled out the practice. The UK government announced on Monday (23 January) that it will permit the use of the banned pesticide thiamethoxam – a type of neonicotinoid – on sugar beet in England in 2023 due to the risk to the crop from plant pest virus called ‘yellows’.

The decision comes just four days after the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) declared that providing emergency derogations for expressly prohibited neonicotinoid-treated seeds is not in line with EU law.

The virus represents a serious threat to the European beet sugar sector. For example, in 2020, French beet growers reported a decline of 30% in yield on the national level caused by the virus yellows and lack of access to neonicotinoids.

20 January 2023

The Scottish Farmer

English gene editing bill leaving Scotland behind on crop breeding

Westminster is moving forward with its Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, whilst the Scottish Government is refusing to allow rules to be changed in Scotland.

A Legislative Consent Memorandum – which would see increased flexibility in modern plant breeding technologies across the UK – looks like being turned down by the Holyrood Government.

This bill would remove precision-bred organisms (PBOs) from the authorisation requirements under GMO legislation and instead bring in two mandatory notification systems for PBOs, one for non-marketing purposes (research and development) and one for marketing purposes.

18 January 2023

BBC News

UK inflation dips but food prices continue to soar

Price rises in the UK slowed for a second month in a row but the cost of food including milk, cheese and eggs kept inflation at a 40-year high.

Inflation, which measures the rate of price rises, fell to 10.5% in the year to December from 10.7% in November.

Petrol and diesel costs eased last month but food prices continued to soar, reaching the highest since 1977.

17 January 2023

Farming UK

UK does not produce enough fruit and veg, warns new study

The UK does not produce enough fruit and vegetables for its population to get the recommended five portions a day intake, according to new analysis.

Even without taking waste into account, the UK would need to produce or import 9% more fruit and veg for everyone to be able to eat the recommended amount.

The analysis, from the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) research group, is intended to inform policy makers of the need to increase production as well as consumption.

13 January 2023


China approves import of Bayer's GMO alfalfa, Corteva canola after a decade

China has approved the import of eight genetically modified (GMO) crops, including GMO alfalfa for the first time, the country's agriculture ministry said on Friday.

Global seed companies have long complained about China's slow approval process for GM crops, which slows down commercialisation of the products globally if they are not approved by one of the world's biggest agriculture markets.

Beijing has long taken a cautious approach to GMO technology and has not yet approved any major crops for cultivation, despite President Xi Jinping's backing of the technology. It does however allow the import of GM crops used in animal feed or for textiles, but trade partners say its process is not always based on science and has often been driven by politics.

12 January 2023

The Telegraph

Genetic breakthrough promises cheap crop costs for world’s poorest farmers

Researchers have managed to create clones of high-performing hybrid varieties that end the need for farmers to buy expensive new seeds every year. The resulting rice plants maintain their bumper yields for at least three generations, in an advance that came after decades of attempts.

First-generation hybrids of crop plants often show better yields and performance than their parent strains – a phenomenon called hybrid vigour. But the effects are then lost when the hybrids are bred together for a second generation, so farmers wanting to keep getting the best harvest must buy new seed each season. The extra cost means that the benefits of rice hybrids have yet to reach many of the world’s farmers.

An international team of researchers from institutions including the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development and University of California have now found a way to reproduce the hybrid vigour generation after generation.

12 January 2023

Fresh Produce Journal

Post-Brexit science should focus on agritech, says minister

Agritech should be a key focus for British scientific innovation post-Brexit, UK science minister George Freeman has suggested. In a speech to centre-right think tank Onward on 11 January, he said the UK would need to set “realistic” ambitions if it is excluded from EU science schemes, Politico reported.

Britain has applied to join EU programmes including the Horizon Europe research and development framework. But the European Commission has refused to sign off on Britain’s involvement until a dispute over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland has been resolved.

Freeman stressed the importance of new UK funding initiatives designed to facilitate bilateral projects with non-EU science powerhouses such as Japan, Switzerland and Israel. This could see British science focus on areas such as agritech, the gene editing of crops, functional foods, and synthetic biology, as well as space and biosecurity.

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