Regular news updates on the group's activities and key developments in science and technology in agriculture.

Group News

APPGSTA Annual Report 2012/13
January 2014

The UK as a global hub of agricultural innovation: George Freeman presentation to Oxford Farming Conference, January 2014

VIDEO: MP hails agri-tech project

VIDEO: George Freeman MP explains the significance of the Agri-Tech Strategy

UK Agri-Tech Strategy published

22 July 2013

 

APPGSTA Annual Report 2011/12

December 2012

 

Progressive agriculture can still be sustainable, Farm Business article, November 2012

 

George Freeman MP hails £250m bio-economy boost

24 May 2012

 

House of Lords Debate -

Innovation in EU Agriculture

February 2012

 

APPGSTA Annual Report 2010/11

December 2011

 

APPGSTA Report

Support for agricultural R&D is essential to deliver sustainable increases in UK food production, November 2010

 

2013 Archive

 

2012 Archive

 

2011 Archive

2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

Science & Technology News

 


Interested parties sought for 'world-class' agri-data centre

The Government is inviting proposals from businesses and research institutions interested in coming together to form a ‘world class’ centre to promote agricultural innovation.

The Government’s Agri-tech strategy, published last July, committed £90 million to establish centres for agricultural innovation.

The overarching aim of the strategy is to encourage businesses to develop, adapt and exploit new technologies and the first centre would be a single point of access for data on the agricultural industry. more

Farmers Guardian, 23 April 2014 


Government must step in over land based skills gap

Education authorities are being urged to offer more agricultural and land based courses to help plug the widening skills gap in the agricultural sector.

It comes after an updated report by sector skills council Lantra highlighted the need for 600,000 new recruits by 2020.

The report calls on education leaders to bring ‘relevant subject matter’ to courses and focus on the skills needed by the industry, as well as promoting the right qualifications, training and career paths to young people and adults. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 April 2014


Trial of GM plants to help fight heart disease given go-ahead

Scientists have been given permission to grow genetically modified plants that could help protect against heart disease.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has given the go-ahead for the field trial of a crop of GM camelina plants, the seeds of which are modified to produce fish oils. The oils could provide feed for farmed fish, meaning that fewer fish need to be caught from the sea, and ultimately could be used in health supplements or as an additive in foods such as margarine.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research Centre in Hertfordshire who will run the trial hailed the decision as a significant milestone for research into genetically modified plants. more

The Guardian, 17 April 2014 


Agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions on the rise

New FAO estimates of greenhouse gas data show that emissions from agriculture, forestry and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years and could increase an additional 30 percent by 2050, without greater efforts to reduce them.

This is the first time that FAO has released its own global estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU), contributing to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Agricultural emissions from crop and livestock production grew from 4.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents* (CO2 eq) in 2001 to over 5.3 billion tonnes in 2011, a 14 percent increase.  The increase occurred mainly in developing countries, due to an expansion of total agricultural outputs. more

Farm Business, 13 April 2014 


DEFRA slammed for stance on UK self-sufficiency

Farming leaders have criticised the government’s attitude towards agriculture after farm minister George Eustice said he was happy with the level of UK self-sufficiency in food.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said he was disappointed that Mr Eustice told a parliamentary committee the government was content with current levels of self-sufficiency – even though the UK produces just 62% of its own food, down from 75% in 1991.

Giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Mr Eustice said: “Food security is not just about self-sufficiency at a national level. Actually having open markets and free trade globally has got a very important role to play in making sure we have food security.” more

Farmers Weekly, 11 April 2014 


Peter Kendall named as new AHDB chairman

Former NFU president Peter Kendall has been appointed chairman of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Mr Kendall takes up the role for a three-year term with immediate effect. He replaces John Godfrey, who stepped down after his term in office at the end of March.

Funded by farmers and others in the supply chain, the AHDB works to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of agriculture and horticulture through advice, information and promotional activity. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 April 2014 


Urgent action on food waste needed

The House of Lords EU Committee has today called for urgent action on food waste in Europe highlighting that at least 90 million tonnes of food is wasted across the EU each year.

In a report published today, the Committee urges action on the basis that food waste represents a financial and environmental loss of resources. The 15 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK each year equates to a financial loss to business of at least £5 billion per year.

Environmentally, the carbon footprint of worldwide food waste is equivalent to twice the global greenhouse gas emission of all road transportation in the USA. more

House of Lords European Union Committee, 6 April 2014 


Princess Anne: Gassing badgers is most humane way to cull

Gassing is the most humane way to cull badgers, the Princess Royal has said.

Princess Anne, who has lost 15 of her rare breed cattle to bovine TB in the past two years, was speaking to BBC One's Countryfile programme at her Gatcombe Park estate.

Her comments come after the government said it would not expand badger culling from two pilot culls aimed at reducing TB in cattle. Defra said "initial investigations" into the use of gas were taking place. more

BBC News, 4 April 2014


Badger cull expansion abandoned after trial failure

The government has abandoned its planned expansion of badger culling to reduce TB in cattle. The environment department's original plan was to announce up to 10 new cull areas in South West England each year.

Defra's own independent assessment shows that culls in two pilot areas were not effective, and raised questions about their humaneness.

These pilot culls will continue, though there will be no independent oversight to assess their future performance. more

BBC News, 3 April 2014           


Animal lab cuts ‘pose threat to human health’

Cuts to animal health surveillance mean Britain is at a much greater risk of outbreaks of devastating diseases such as "mad cow disease", experts say.

The Royal College of Pathologists (RCP) says human health could be at risk. The RCP is calling for an urgent review of plans to cut the number of animal health surveillance laboratories in England and Wales from 14 to seven.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the cuts are part of an "improved approach". more

BBC News, 1 April 2014 


Climate impacts 'overwhelming' - UN

The impacts of global warming are likely to be "severe, pervasive and irreversible", a major report by the UN has warned. Scientists and officials meeting in Japan say the document is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the impacts of climate change on the world.

Members of the UN's climate panel say it provides overwhelming evidence of the scale of these effects.

Natural systems now bear the brunt, but a growing impact on humans is feared. Our health, homes, food and safety are all likely to be threatened by rising temperatures, the summary says. more

BBC News, 31 March 2014 


£4 million for agricultural innovation

Businesses including an urban farm and spin-outs from universities across the UK have received a share of £4 million of funding from government and industry to develop their innovative business ideas.

The government funding comes from the £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst announced as part of the UK Industrial Strategy for Agricultural Technologies. It is designed to support businesses and universities to bridge the difficult gap between lab research and the marketplace.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “The pioneering projects announced today are the businesses of the future and this funding will make a real difference in bringing innovative ideas from the lab to the marketplace. This work is critical in supporting the UK’s Agri-tech Strategy and our commitment to establish the UK as a world leader in agriculture technology, innovation and sustainability.”

Agriculture and Science Minister Lord De Mauley said: “Farmers are the backbone of the £97 billion agri-food sector. The 11 projects announced today will be invaluable in helping them take advantage of the latest science and innovation, supporting our world-class agricultural technology sector.” more

BIS/Defra/DfID, 28 March 2014 


Climate change could prolong world hunger for decades, says Oxfam

World hunger could be prolonged for decades because our global food system is “woefully” unprepared for the impacts of climate change, an Oxfam report has warned.

The paper, titled Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger, says that rising temperatures, extreme weather and changing rainfall patterns caused by climate change are already affecting crop yields across the world.

Oxfam lists examples such as the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013, the flooding of the Somerset Levels and droughts in Brazil and California as recent disasters that have threatened food production. Climate scientists have already predicted that climate change will increase the chances of similar weather events occurring around the planet. more

Blue & Green Tomorrow, 26 March 2014 


British food too cheap warns supply chain expert

The continual drive to produce the cheap food that fuels supermarket competition is having a damaging effect on the environment and agricultural biodiversity, as well as the capacity of the land to continue to produce food sustainably.

Speaking about food poverty and the constant push to make food cheaper, Ralph Early, who is head of the food science and agri-food supply chain management at Harper Adams, warned the days of cheap food must draw to a close.

He said: “Some people believe that the simple solution to food poverty is to make food cheaper, which often means producing cheaper raw materials. But, if we are at all concerned with agricultural sustainability and the capacity of the land to feed us long into the future, we must ask ourselves whether food in Britain is actually too cheap.” more

Farmers Guardian, 24 March 2014 


Heatwaves could threaten frood crops, study warns

Future heatwaves could threaten key global food crops if climate change is not addressed, according to a British study. Researchers came to the conclusion after estimating the effects of extreme temperatures and raised carbon dioxide levels on maize, wheat and soybean production. 

While more C02 in the atmosphere may boost plant growth, this effect is likely to be counteracted by extreme heat, they warn. Crops are especially vulnerable to heat around anthesis, the flowering period of the plant.

“At this stage, extreme temperatures can lead to reduced pollen sterility and reduced seed set, greatly reducing the crop yield,” said lead scientist Delphine Deryng, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. more

The Guardian, 20 March 2014 


PAC says agriculture research body failed to deliver ‘value for money’

A body doing crucial work for the agri-food industry has failed to deliver good value for money on £253m of spending, a report has found.

The report by the Public Accounts Committee (Pac) at Stormont stated management of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) had been "unacceptably poor".

The institute was set-up in 2006 and is run by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It carries out scientific research. more

BBC News, 19 March 2014  


Researchers aim to develop portable TB testing device

Scientists say they are in the process of developing a portable testing device capable of detecting bovine TB (bTB) in cattle in just a matter of minutes

In a three-year study, at Nottingham Trent University (NTU), co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, scientists are identifying ‘biological markers’ – or molecules – in the blood, which indicate the presence of bovine TB.

The next stage of this, the subject of a £1.1 million collaborative study, is to develop a rapid ‘point of care’ device, about the size of a smartphone, that could be used by vets to give ‘an almost instant diagnosis from a simple blood test at farm sites’. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 March 2014 


Climate change to hit crop yields sooner than thought

New research, led by scientists at the University of Leeds, has shown that global warming of only 2°C will be detrimental to crops in temperate and tropical regions alike, and that changes will begin to have marked effects on yields sooner than had been anticipated.

According to the scientists, yields could begin falling from the 2030s onwards.

Professor Andy Challinor, from the University's School of Earth and Environment led the study. Prof Challinor said, "Our research shows that crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected… The impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place – with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic.” more

Farming Online, 17 March 2014 


David Cameron's science advisers call for expansion of GM crops

David Cameron's official science advisers have called for GM crops to be rolled out across the UK by scrapping "dysfunctional" EU regulations that risk curtailing future food supplies.

"We take it for granted that because our supermarket shelves are groaning with food, there are no problems with the food supply, but there are," said government's chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, citing rising global population, limited farmland and climate change. "If we don't use GM the risk is people going unfed."

In a report published on Friday, the scientists say GM crops should face the same regulation as conventional crops and that the UK government should take back powers from Brussels to be able to unilaterally approve the growing of GM crops across the UK. more

The Guardian, 14 March 2014


Environment groups condemn GM crop plan

Environment groups have written to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to condemn Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s support for growing GM crops in Britain. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, GeneWatch UK, GM Freeze and the Soil Association expressed concerns that controversial Roundup Ready GM crops might be planted in England as early as Spring 2015.

At the EU’s March Environment Council meeting Paterson supported a proposal that would fast-track GM crops for commercial cultivation in pro-GM countries, while allowing anti-GM countries to opt out. 
more

Farming UK, 11 March 2014 


‘Embrace technology to maintain food security’, says CLA 

The CLA has told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee that the UK must invest in technology to protect food security. Giving evidence, CLA President Henry Robinson told the Committee that a massive rise in the global demand for food needs to be tackled by utilising new technology.

CLA President Henry Robinson said: “The UK has been slow to recognise the full range of techniques available to improve farming methods. China’s changing diet and the expected rise of Asian middle classes from 500 million people to three billion in just 15 years will considerably impact meat and dairy availability.

“The arable sector has a greater capacity to invest in these precision technologies and reap the rewards of the huge opportunities that are available. However, livestock farmers need help if they are to facilitate the new technology.”
more

Farm Business, 6 March 2014 


Virtual honey bee colony could measure effects of pesticides

Scientists have created a computer model which simulates a honey bee colony in order to see how bees are affected by environmental changes such as pesticide use. The BEEHAVE model, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was created to investigate the losses of honey bee colonies and to identify the best course of action for improving bee health.

It simulates the life of a colony including the queen’s egg laying, brood care by nurse bees and foragers collecting nectar and pollen in a realistic landscape.

The project, which was funded by an Industrial Partnership Award from BBSRC with co-funding from Syngenta, will also investigate the use of pesticides on bee populations. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 March 2014 


Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago - raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, a study has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures.

Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. The study appears in the journal PNAS. more

BBC News, 3 March 2014 


MEPs call on EU to support a competitive plant breeding sector

The European Parliament is urging the European Commission to boost investment in EU plant breeding research to help Europe’s farmers meet future food needs and cope with climate change.

This week, MEPs adopted a report from the Agriculture Committee highlighting the critical importance of having an effective and competitive European plant breeding industry, and calling on the Commission to step up its efforts to create a coherent and long-term framework for plant breeding research in the EU.

In particular, the report highlights the need for higher-yielding varieties to meet increased demands for food and feed, and for plant breeding research to focus on developing crops with improved resilience to more extreme weather conditions and new disease challenges. more

Farm Business, 28 February 2014 


More than 20,000 crops from more than 100 nations have arrived at a "Doomsday vault" in the Arctic Circle.

The latest delivery coincides with the sixth anniversary of the frozen depository in Svalbard, which now houses more than 800,000 samples. The shipment includes the first offering from Japan, where collections were threatened by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The facility is designed to withstand all natural and human disasters. more

           


Biodiesel by-product could be used to protect soil quality

Scientists at the BBSRC strategically-funded institute Rothamsted Research have shown that a waste product from biodiesel manufacture could be used to protect soil quality for agriculture.

An important goal in agricultural sustainability is to establish better management of nitrogen (N) to prevent "leaching" of nitrate (NO3) out of the soil into water. more

BBSRC, 24 February 2014 


East Anglian researchers in race to develop new higher-yielding wheats

Arable farmers have been struggling for the past two decades to boost average production as national yields have been on a plateau. The opportunity to smash through this yield barrier has long been a goal of plant breeders and scientists but a team of researchers at Cambridge has achieved some dramatic progress with a potential “superwheat.”

Even a yield improvement of about 15pc on the country’s farms could be worth an estimated £416m, said Prof Andy Greenland, who is NIAB’s director of genetics and breeding. He leads the six-strong team at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, which was established in 1919 at Cambridge, and has been shortlisted for an Innovator of the Year award. more

Eastern Daily Press, 22 February 2014 


Flood-proofing farming: a grass roots approach

Scientists at two BBSRC-funded institutes – Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and Rothamsted Research North Wyke in Devon – are developing new grasses that enable soils to capture increased volumes of rainfall, thereby reducing the risk of flooding downstream.

The 5 year £2.5M LINK project named SUREROOT is funded by BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), and match-funded by a range of industrial partners from across the food production spectrum, including a seed company, a major retailer and the meat, poultry and dairy industry. more

BBSRC, 20 February 2014 


Genetically modified potatoes ‘resist late blight’

British scientists have developed genetically modified potatoes that are resistant to the vegetable's biggest threat - blight. A three-year trial has shown that these potatoes can thrive despite being exposed to late onset blight. That disease has plagued farmers for generations and it triggered the Irish potato famine in the 1840s.

EU approval is needed before commercial cultivation of this GM crop can take place. The research is published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. more

BBC News, 17 February 2014 


Scientists identify TB-resistant genes

Scientists have identified genetic traits in cattle that could allow farmers to breed livestock with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis (bTB).The research, led by the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, compared the genes of TB-infected and disease-free Holstein Friesian cows.

They were able to identify a number of genetic signatures associated with TB resistance in the cows that remained unaffected.

Researchers at the institute said the latest finding is significant as it sheds further light on whether it might be possible to improve TB control through selective breeding. more

Farmers Weekly, 13 February 2014 


EU set to grow more GM maize despite strong opposition

The EU is set to approve a new type of genetically modified maize for cultivation despite huge opposition. The European Commission says the US-developed maize variety, called Pioneer 1507, is safe and the decision is now in the Commission's hands.

Most EU governments objected to it in a vote, but the vote tally was still not enough to block it. Under EU rules, the Commission can now authorise it. Only one GM crop - another maize variety - is grown in the EU currently. more

BBC News, 11 February 2014 


High-oleic hemp may be low-input OSR alternative

Hemp crops producing oil with similar qualities to olive oil could become an alternative to oilseed rape in UK rotations, but without many of the disease and pest problems seen with rape.

Scientists at the University of York have successfully developed hemp plants with a dramatically increased content of oleic acid, the fatty acid more often associated with olive and rapeseed oils. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 February 2014 


Organic farming 'boosts biodiversity and bees'

Organic farms support 34% more plant, insect and animal species on average compared with conventional farms, according to Oxford academics.

Researchers from the University of Oxford reviewed farm data going back 30 years and they concluded that organic farms yielded greater biodiversity benefits than intensively-farmed land. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, also found that on average, non-organic farms have about 50% fewer species of pollinators, such as bees, than organic farms.

“Our study has shown that organic farming, as an alternative to conventional farming, can yield significant long-term benefits for biodiversity,” said Sean Tuck, study lead author, of Oxford University’s department of plant sciences. more

Farmers Weekly, 4 February 2014 


New funding to create healthier and safer food

A low calorie chocolate that tastes just as good as the real thing and a white bread with high fibre are just two of the projects being funded that could make a difference to your diet and health in the future.

£8.5M is being invested in almost 40 research projects by BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board and other partners to tackle issues around nutritional values, food safety, specific dietary requirements and food waste.

Other innovations being developed include a project to identify foods that could treat osteoporosis, and studies assessing the potential for using pumpkin and mulberry extracts to help treat diabetes and obesity. more

Technology Strategy Board, 3 February 2014 


Finnish study finds neonicotinoids do not harm bees

Initial findings from a Finnish study on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on field crops suggest they may not cause acute harm to bees.

The Neomehi Project in Finland is studying how neonicotinoid-based insecticides used in the cultivation of spring oilseed rape and spring turnip rape plants affects honeybees.

Based on the first set of test results, researchers said they suggested neonicotinoids do not cause immediate harm to honeybees. more

Farmers Weekly, 2 February 2014


Environment Minister launches Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre

A £2.9 million centre to support advanced agricultural engineering teaching and research was today (30 January) launched at Shropshire’s Harper Adams University.

Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for natural environment and science, conducted the official opening of The Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre (AEIC). The Environment Minister said: “Harper Adams’s new £2.9m Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre for precision agriculture is a world class example of the innovation and agri-engineering expertise we have in the UK.

“We need to do all we can to translate research into new products, processes and technologies if we are to increase the competitiveness of the agricultural sector, address the challenge of food security and enhance the environment.” more

Farming Monthly, 30 January 2014 


UK could fall behind without investment in plant science

A funding shortfall is threatening the UK’s position as a world leader in plant science, a new report has claimed.

Researchers from the UK Plant Sciences Federation said the industry played a vital role in guaranteeing food security, coping with the threats from climate change, protecting biodiversity, and improving human health.

However, they claim a lack of investment in the industry coupled with a skills shortage could be detrimental to the industry if the gloomy trend is not addressed soon.

The report calls for a doubling of investment in UK plant science, which currently receives less than 4 per cent of public research funding. more

Farmers Guardian, 28 January 2014 


Chair of APPG appointed UK trade envoy

George Freeman, MP for Mid-Norfolk and Chair of the APPG on Science and Technology in Agriculture, has been appointed a UK Trade Envoy by the Prime Minister.

The announcement was made at the close of the Davos World Economic Forum, as part of an expansion of the UK's global trade and inward investment mission spearheaded by UKTI.

George Freeman, elected to Parliament in 2010 for the new constituency of Mid Norfolk after a career in the Eastern Region founding high growth start-up technology businesses, was appointed Government Adviser on Life Sciences in 2011 and has been closely involved in the launch of the UK's Industrial Strategies for Agri-Tech and Life Sciences.
more

Farming UK, 27 January 2014 


Genetically-modified purple tomatoes heading for shops

The prospect of genetically modified purple tomatoes reaching the shelves has come a step closer.

Their dark pigment is intended to give tomatoes the same potential health benefits as fruit such as blueberries.Developed in Britain, large-scale production is now under way in Canada with the first 1,200 litres of purple tomato juice ready for shipping.

The pigment, known as anthocyanin, is an antioxidant which studies on animals show could help fight cancer. Scientists say the new tomatoes could improve the nutritional value of everything from ketchup to pizza topping. more

BBC News, 24 January 2014 


‘Fish oil’ GM plant trial application submitted

An application to conduct field trials of a genetically modified crop containing Omega-3 fatty acids normally found in oily fish has been submitted. If approved by the government, the trials could begin at Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, this year.

The initial aim of the crop is to benefit the fish farming industry, the researchers said. But in a decade it could end up in food products, such as margarine.

The scientists at Rothamsted Research - who have been working on the project for 15 years - modified seeds from Camelina sativa (false flax) plants using genes from marine algae - the primary organisms that produce the fatty acids.

By substituting synthetic versions of up to seven genes from marine algae, the researchers have engineered Camelina plants to produce two key Omega-3 fatty acids normally obtained from oily fish, EPA and DHA. more

BBC News, 24 January 2014 


Summit to discuss threat of 'over cautious' pesticide rules

 Over-precautionary regulations on pesticides are hampering UK farmers’ ability to produce food, the NFU has warned.

Ahead of a summit on Wednesday (January 22) to discuss concerns over crop protection, NFU president Peter Kendall said the ever increasing regulatory pressure meant farmers were facing a growing challenge to produce the high quality British food consumers want.

Leading industry figures from farming, agricultural chemical manufacturing and crop protection distribution will meet at the union’s Stoneleigh headquarters. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 January 2014   


Campaign launched to warn farmers of illegal pesticides

A national campaign warning farmers of the risks of buying illegal pesticides has been launched.

Watch Out! for illegal pesticides is the message of the 12-month industry campaign launched to raise public awareness of illegal pesticides.

The Voluntary Initiative (VI) and Red Tractor Assurance is supporting the drive, with funding from the Crop Protection Association, NFU and Agricultural Industries Confederation. more

Farmers Weekly, 17 January 2014 


New research funding to combat yellow rust

A major £1.4m international research project aimed at combating a key disease in wheat is set to take place in the east of England.

The John Innes Centre in Norwich and NIAB in Cambridge will provide the base for one year of a project developing genetically resistant wheat varieties.

Four PhD students appointed in India, Kenya and Ethiopia will spend one year abroad in one of the UK partner institutions, which also includes The Sainsbury’s Laboratory in Norwich. The move comes as part of a major international effort to improve crop production in developing countries and combat disease. more

Farmers Weekly, 14 January 2014 


Hostility to GM putting EU in 'global slow lane' - report

The growing influence of green lobbyists and anti-capitalists on European policymaking is condemning the EU the ‘global slow lane’ when it comes to biotechnology, an MP has warned.

George Freeman, chairman of the All Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture, said ‘growing hostility’ to technologies like GM is already forcing some of the biggest biotechnology companies to abandon Europe as a market.

The UK and the rest of the EU are in danger of missing out on the ‘major opportunity’ presented by the revolution in the field of genomics to support farmers in boosting food production while also creating ‘huge new inward investment and export opportunities’, according to the Norfolk MP. more

Farmers Guardian, 14 January 2014 


Norfolk MP says EU’s hostility towards science is hampering investment

The rise of an “increasingly science hostile” European Union is undermining our attractiveness as a place to invest, MP George Freeman has said while calling for reform or the UK would try to “take back” science regulation from Brussels.

The Norfolk MP will today publish a report for the European reform project, Fresh Start, in which he highlights an increasing tide of “anti-biotech” legislation.

He said the EU’s hostility to Genetically Modified crops had already seen German based BASF and US major Monsanto announcing its withdrawal from Europe in agricultural research and development, adding that EU policymaking machine was being driven by “increasingly strident and politically active biotech-hostile lobbying groups, and minority political parties exercising influence through the coalition politics of member states.” more

Eastern Daily Press, 10 January 2014


Technology revolution presents opportunities for farming

A technological revolution in British agriculture presents huge opportunities for UK farming, according to Tory MP George Freeman.

Mr Freeman was speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on the potential impact of the government’s £160m agri-tech strategy.

Mr Freeman, the Tory MP for mid-Norfolk, said that the pace of economic development in industrialising countries was “utterly breathtaking” and would lead to more pressures, but also opportunities, which the strategy could make use of. more

Farmers Weekly, 9 January 2014 


New GM plants could help to feed world — if Luddites don’t interfere, say farmers

A new, less intrusive way of genetically engineering plants would help to feed the world’s growing population but is at risk from the same “Luddite attitudes” blocking GM crops, according to a farming industry report.

The technology, known as cisgenics, involves transferring genes from closely related plant species rather than genetically modifying crops by importing “foreign” genes. It more closely resembles conventional breeding but uses similar technology to GM methods.

The report, being debated today at the Oxford Farming Conference, says: “New technology, post GM, is emerging but must not be allowed to fall victim to the same Luddite attitudes which have left Europe isolated from transgenic technology. The cost of doing so would be catastrophic in terms of food production failing to increase to feed the world’s growing population.” more

The Times, 7 January 2014 


Wheat promiscuity holds key to yields

Wheat will have sex with anything. That observation from Keith Woodward, professor of cereal genomics at Bristol University, holds the key to breaking the yield plateau, he said at a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council fringe meeting at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Wheat’s “promiscuity”’ to cross with plants outside its genus, such as grasses with significantly better photosynthetic efficiency, offers breeders great scope to increase yields.

Prof Woodward explained that a six-year collaboration between John Innes, NIAB, Rothamsted and Nottingham and Bristol universities called WISP (Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme) to identify new genetics is going “remarkably well”. Now halfway through the programme the partnership have identified 80,000 gene markers and are on course to have 820,000 by the end of this month. more

Farmers Weekly, 7 January 2014 


 

Designer plants have vital fish oils in their seeds

 

Move over, cod liver oil. A biofuel crop related to cabbages, called camelina, has been genetically modified to produce components of fish oils beneficial for cardiovascular health. The approach could relieve some of the pressure on the oceans.

 

The flesh of oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, plus the livers of white fish such as cod, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The most important ones are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – known to reduce the risk of heart disease – and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – a lack of which has been linked to visual and cognitive problems. more

New Scientist, 2 January 2014 


Step forward in quest for second generation biofuels

Researchers from the Department of Chemistry at York have discovered a family of enzymes that can degrade hard-to-digest biomass into its constituent sugars.

The scientists said their research could unlock the potential for 'second generation' biofuels – those which are not produced from agricultural crops. Within the EU, debate is raging over support for first generation biofuels, which do come from agricultural feed-stocks. more

Farming Online, 30 December 2013 


Britain advised to ignore EU and reap GM benefits

Britain is missing out on the benefits of genetically modified crops because of Europe’s “medieval” attitude towards the technology, the Environment Minister has said.

Owen Paterson told a parliamentary meeting this week that Europe was becoming “the museum of world farming” because Austria and France were blocking the cultivation of GM crops on European soil.

Despite GM products being consistently ruled as safe by the European regulator, “product after product goes through this rigorous process and then gets stuck at the political level where witchcraft is re-imposed,” he told the All-Party Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture this week. “Decisions are made on pure emotion and the science is ignored.” more

The Times, 21 December 2013 


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