Science & Technology News
Key developments in science and technology in agriculture.
Public back gene-editing tech as climate worries rise
17 September 2021
The public want farmers to have access to new precision breeding techniques such as gene-editing to respond better to climate change, a new survey says. It indicates rising concern about the environment following a summer of droughts and heat waves, including the hottest temperatures recorded in Europe since records began.
The YouGov survey of over 2,000 adults, carried out on behalf of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, shows public enthusiasm for new approaches to farming in light of these extremes.
The majority of those surveyed (81%) agreed that farmers should be able to benefit from innovations that could help them play their role in meeting the UK goal of reaching net-zero by 2050. Three-quarters (75%) of respondents agreed that one of the key advantages of embracing innovations in agriculture is the reduction in the UK’s reliance on imports from other countries.
Not enough importance placed on Britain’s food production says NFU
16 September 2021
The NFU is calling for a commitment from government that Britain’s food production will not slip below its current level of 60% self-sufficiency. They also want to see greater ambition in promoting British food at home and abroad to help with food security.
NFU President Minette Batters officially launched the new British Food: Leading The Way report at their Back British Farming Day event in Westminster. She asked the government to complete a comprehensive report on UK food security later this year, covering the country’s production of key foods and its contribution to global food security.
UK set to approve gene-edited livestock and crops in major post-Brexit break with EU policy
16 September 2021
Ministers are set to give the go-ahead to the use of gene editing in agriculture which could see altered produce on the supermarket shelves in five years time, i can reveal.
The Government is expected to issue its response to its own consultation on the technology at the end of the month that will give the green light to the “cautious exploration” of genetic engineering in farming.
The move will mark the biggest divergence by the UK away from existing European laws since leaving the EU, which has banned the technique for years amid fears it is unsafe.
Study shows hedgerows can deliver big financial returns
7 September 2021
Planting hedgerows on arable land to boost populations of pollinating insects could increase crop yields by 10%, according to new research. CPRE, the countryside charity, wants the government to act on the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee and expand the UK’s hedgerow network by 40% by 2050.
The charity commissioned the Organic Research Centre (ORC) to investigate what this could mean for farmers and others. In that study, hedgerows were shown to cut the need for pesticide controls by 30% and increase yields by 10%.
CPRE said this demonstrated that strategic planting of hedgerows on arable land has the potential to pay for itself. It calculated that for every £1 invested in hedgerows, farmers would see a £1.73 return from higher crop yields and reduced spend on pesticides.
Plans to strengthen governance of gene editing
3 September 2021
Genetic innovation may create opportunities to transform agri-food systems through nutritionally healthier crop varieties that have greater disease resistance, the Regulatory Horizons Council said. The expert committee's report, which issued recommendations to government, suggested that genetic changes could help chemical use and greenhouse gas emissions fall. This in turn would improve climate resilience and contribute to more sustainable agricultural systems, the Council's report explained.
The British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB), the representative body for the UK plant breeding industry, welcomed the report. "This report recognises the benefits of genetic technologies and supports the proposals set out in the recent Defra consultation to take simple gene edited crop varieties – which could have occurred in nature or through conventional plant breeding – out of the scope of existing genetically modified organism (GMO) regulation," BSPB CEO, Samantha Brooke said.
LED streetlights reduce insect populations by half
26 August 2021
‘Eco-friendly’ LED streetlights are even more harmful for insect populations than the traditional sodium bulbs they are replacing, a NERC-funded study has shown.
The negative impacts of light pollution on insects including moths, which provide essential food sources for a variety of animals and are important pollinators, are well known.
However, scientists behind this latest research say it is the first investigation into the effects of the whiter outdoor LED lights on insect populations in ‘real world’ conditions.
Gene editing for livestock disease resistance
The Scottish Farmer
21 August 2021
Widespread use of anti-viral drugs in livestock creates a risk for human health – so agriculture should look instead to genome editing to disease-proof its animals.
This approach has already yielded results in tackling respiratory disease in pigs, and one of the scientists behind that breakthrough, Professor Helen Sang of the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, is calling for the technology to be fully harnessed as a means of preventing disease spread and drug resistance throughout livestock production.
Arla reveals carbon output of its dairy farmers
19 August 2021
Dairy co-operative Arla has revealed carbon footprint data from just under 2,000 of its UK dairy farmers, suggesting they are world-beaters in terms of their environmental impact.
In a new report, A sustainable future for British dairy, the company maps the carbon footprint of its raw milk, as well as the source of greenhouse gas emissions on-farm, using analysis of 1,964 of its UK farmers.
The results show that the farmers’ raw milk is produced with emissions of 1.13kg/litre of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is about half the global average and less than the UK average of 1.25kg/litre.
Organic consumers being duped by ‘illicitly’ marketed products
17 August 2021
Organic consumers are being duped by “illicitly” marketed products that are grown from conventional seeds, MPs have warned, as they call for the Environment Secretary to launch an investigation.
Organic growers in Scotland have been accused of illicitly marketing crops grown from 100 per cent conventional seed as organic in a “clear breach” of rules, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture has said.
The growers received premiums of more than £500 a tonne because their product was marked as organic, in what Julian Sturdy MP described as a "kick in the teeth" for conventional farmers.
Vegan diets reduce intake of essential nutrients, scientists say
16 August 2021
Vegan diets are unlikely to be widely adopted by the public, scientists have admitted, and eating only plant-based food may reduce intake of essential nutrients found only in meat and dairy.
The warning comes from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), which has published a report looking at the need to consider nutritional quality of diets, alongside environmental benefits, in order to achieve sustainable diets.
It says that evidence does not suggest the need to cut out meat or other animal-derived foods entirely in order to eat a healthier and more sustainable diet.