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

2011 - Group News

Westminster Hall Debate

19 July 2011

GM Food Technologies


News release - 6 April 2011

MP calls for better bee health provision in the UK


APPGSTA Spring Newsletter

April 2011


News release - 25 Feb 2011

EU cannot ignore global biotech opportunities, warns MP


News release - 8 Feb 2011

MP calls for improved co-ordination of food and farming research


George Freeman MP at NIAB

George Freeman MP inspects micropropagated plants in NIAB's plant growth rooms


News release - 24 Jan 2011

Support for UK agri-science base essential to meet food security challenge



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


2010 Archive

2009 Archive

2008 Archive

2011 Archive - Science & Technology News

Scientists make breakthrough in nitrogen-fixation

Scientists have made a key breakthrough in understanding the nitrogen-fixation process in legumes, which could ultimately lead to nitrogen-fixing in wheat and other crops.

Researchers at the John Innes Centre (JIC) have discovered that plants themselves let nitrogen-fixing bacteria in by allowing it to breach the cell walls. more

Farmers Weekly, 20 December 2011 

Industry collaboration vital for sustainable food supply chain

Scientists, farmers, businesses, retailers and policy-makers from across the agri-food sector are backing a co-ordinated industry approach to ensure a sustainable and efficient UK food supply chain.

It follows the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming (CEUKF) inaugural conference, where delegates from industry, academia and Government debated how the UK could become the best place to produce safe and nutritious food - against the backdrop of global population growth, climate change and other key challenges. more

Farmers Guardian, 19 December 2011 

New advice service for farmers

Farmers wanting professional advice will no longer have to ring around dozens of organisations before getting through to the right source, said Agriculture Minister Jim Paice as he announced that a new, simpler Government advice service will launch in the New Year.

Defra’s new Farming Advice Service (FAS) will offer a one-stop-shop to farmers needing advice on subjects including cross compliance, nutrient management, competitiveness, and climate change adaption and mitigation. more

Farming Online, 19 December 2011 

Government to press ahead with badger cull

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today announced that two trial culls of badgers in England would go ahead as planned. Speaking after Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, Spelman announced that the proposed pilot culls form the next stage of the bovine TB eradication programme.

The culls will aim to reduce the instance of bovine TB in areas where it is endemic; in the South West, 23 per cent of cattle farms were affected by movement restrictions in 2010. Defra estimates they will cost each group of farmers £1.4million per cull area, with pilots beginning in early autumn 2012. more

Farming Online, 14 December 2011 

EU appoints chief scientist to boost policy advice

The European Commission appointed on Monday Scottish biologist Anne Glover as its first Chief Scientific Advisor, in a bid to improve policy advice to the bloc's executive when it drafts EU law.

The appointment of Glover, who has served as Scotland's chief scientist since 2006, followed a pledge by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in 2009 to fundamentally review the way the EU accesses and uses scientific advice. more

Reuters, 6 December 2011 

Climate change will be good for Britain's growers says Met Office

Climate change will be good for British farming, according to a new Met Office report, that found most agriculture will become more productive as temperatures rise.  

The report, which brings together for the first time climate change projections for 24 different countries, found that farmers in the UK, Germany and Canada could all benefit from global warming. more

The Telegraph, 6 December 2011 

Droughts force change in breeding priorities

The threat posed by climate change and extreme weather events to Europe’s capacity for crop production is forcing plant breeders to search for a new generation of varieties capable of enduring such testing conditions.

Previously varieties were assessed principally for their ability to perform in typical national climatic conditions, but prolonged droughts such as that seen earlier this year and the belief that the climate will become increasingly adverse to modern production needs has forced breeders to extend assessment protocols. more

Farm Business, 2 December 2011  

Drought risk high for England next summer, government warns

Drought will almost certainly hit parts of England next summer unless there is sustained rainfall this winter, according to the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman.

Her warning came on Thursday as South East Water applied to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for a drought order to help refill Ardingly reservoir, where the level of usable water is now just 12%, to secure supplies for East and West Sussex. more

The Guardian, 1 December 2011

French court overturns France GM ban

France's highest court, the Conseil d'Etat, has confirmed a previous judgment by the European Court of Justice that the 2008 French ban on the cultivation of genetically-modified crops is illegal.

The ban in France has been overturned after the French government presented no scientific evidence of any risk to health or the environment from these crops. more

Farmers Weekly, 30 November 2011 

Land, water scarcity threaten food security – U.N.

A rapidly growing population, climate change and degradation of land and water resources are likely to make the world more vulnerable to food insecurity and challenge the task of feeding its people by 2050, the United Nations' food agency said.

The world would have to boost cereals output by 1 billion tonnes and produce 200 million extra tonnes of livestock products a year by 2050 to feed a population projected at 9 billion people, up from 7 billion now, according to U.N. estimates. more

Reuters, 28 November 2011

UK retailers urged to back sustainability project

UK RETAILERS have been urged to come together to pool resources in new research projects aimed at creating a more sustainable UK food supply chain.

The Centre of Excellence for UK Farming (CEUKF) held its first conference in Kenilworth, this week bringing together scientists, farmers, policymakers and retailers, primarily represented by Waitrose.

CEUKF is a pioneering partnership established by Waitrose, the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB). more

Farmers Guardian, 25 November 2011

UK research reveals biomass need not compete with food production

Up to a fifth of global energy could be provided by biomass without damaging food production, according to a new report from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), at Imperial College, London.

The report, based on reviews of over 90 global studies, showed bioenergy need not necessarily compete with food production. The report was instigated in response to the controversy surrounding bioenergy, with many stating that using crops to make biofuels and fuel biomass power stations is reducing the amount of land available for food production, contributing to pollution and driving up food prices. more

Farming Online, 25 November 2011

Research needs overhaul to secure food supplies

Agricultural research in the UK needs an overhaul if government, scientists and farmers are going to find a way to secure food supplies, a leading researcher has claimed.

Tim Benton, “champion” of Global Food Security - a coalition of government departments and research organisations working to find sustainable ways to produce food – said farming and food research had been too focused on single issues in the past. more

Farmers Weekly, 22 November 2011 

'Focus on productivity not bio-diversity' - Kendall

THE Government should switch its focus from bio-diversity and concentrate on farm productivity if it wants to take full advantage of British agriculture’s potential as an ‘engine for growth’.

Speaking at the Agricultural Industries Confederation’s annual conference at Peterborough, NFU president Peter Kendall said a combination of many years of low profits and chronic underinvestment in production-related R&D had left British farming’s productivity lagging behind major overseas competitors. more

Farmers Guardian, 17 November 2011 

Agriculture needs massive investment to avoid hunger, scientists warn

Billions more investment is needed in agriculture and food distribution systems around the world in the next few years, if widespread hunger is to be avoided, according to a group of leading scientists.

If that investment is directed towards sustainable forms of agriculture, then farming can also be made into a weapon in the fight against dangerous global warming, they said, as more environmentally friendly farming methods can result in soils absorbing carbon dioxide rather than releasing it. more

The Guardian, 16 November 2011 

Britain's native trees are producing ripe fruit, on average, 18 days earlier than a decade ago, probably as a result of climatic shifts, a study reveals.

It shows that acorns are ripening 13 days earlier, while rowan berries are ready to eat nearly a month earlier. Experts warn that one consequence could be that animals' food reserves would become depleted earlier in the winter. more


CEH study reveals effect of pollution on crops

Two new reports from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Bangor, North Wales claim that up to 13 per cent of Europe’s wheat crop is being lost to air pollution created by vehicles and industry, this amounts to £3 billion worth of wheat a year.

Dr Gina Mills, who worked on the reports, said ozone, a gas created by sunlight reacting with car vehicle exhausts and industrial emissions, was responsible for reductions in yield worldwide as levels of pollution mean ozone episodes are increasingly affecting crops. more

Farming Online, 11 November 2011

Plant pests: The biggest threats to food security?

The threat posed to crop production by plant pests and diseases is one the key factors that could lead to "a perfect storm" that threatens to destabilise global food security. Already, the biological threat accounts for about a 40% loss in global production and the problem is forecast to get worse, scientists warn.

BBC News has asked Dr Matthew Cock, chief scientist for Cabi, a UK-based agri-environment research organisation, to compile a list of the worst plant pests threatening crops around the world. more

BBC News, 9 November 2011 

Pesticide residues falling in EU food - EFSA

The European Food Safety Authority has published its third Annual Report on Pesticide Residues, which gives an overview of pesticide residues found in food in the European Union during 2009 and assesses the exposure of consumers to those residues through their diets.

The report shows that compliance rates continue to rise, with 97.4% of the samples analysed falling within the permitted Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), a rise of about one percentage point since 2008. more

Farming Online, 8 November 2011 

UK chief scientist accuses EU of ignoring food production 

Government chief scientist Professor Sir John Beddington has accused the European of failing to grasp the key messages about the need to increase food production.

Sir John, lead author of the influential Foresight report, contrasted the UK’s positive response to the report with the EU’s continuing pursuit of policies that restrict farmers’ efforts to increase production. more

Farmers Guardian, 3 November 2011 

Scrap CAP to boost farm research, says Rickard

Direct subsidies to farmers should be scrapped in favour of increasing investment in agricultural research and development, according to a leading farm economist.

Sean Rickard said too little money has been spent on agricultural research over the past decade and Common Agricultural Policy funding could no longer be wasted propping up ineffective farmers. more

Farmers Weekly, 31 October 2011 

Breakthrough in development of flood-tolerant crops

An international team of scientists have made a breakthrough which could facilitate the development of flood tolerant crops, widely regarded as one of the key developments for ensuring food security over coming decades.

The discovery by researchers at the University of Nottingham and the University of California at Riverside have this week published work on how plants sense low oxygen levels and survive flooding. more

Farming Online, 28 October 2011

UK scientists come together to help feed the 7 billion

The Universities of Exeter and Bristol, in partnership with Rothamsted Research have officially joined forces to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing humanity: how can we sustainably feed a growing population?

The Food Security and Land Research Alliance launches at the House of Commons today (26 October) amidst reports that the world population is on the brink of reaching seven billion.

The Alliance brings together world-class expertise across a range of disciplines, from biosciences and agricultural science to economics and the humanities. It will establish the South West of England as a centre of global significance in the arena of food security and land research. more

Farming UK, 26 October 2011

Coccidiosis vaccine research progressing well

Tackling coccidiosis is one of the most pressing concerns for food producers in a resource-constrained world, say researchers, and ground-breaking research to develop a vaccine against the parasite is gaining ground in the UK.

A joint project involving Imperial College London, the Institute for Animal Health, the University of Oxford and the Royal Veterinary College recently published research which forms the first step in developing a new type of coccidiosis vaccine. more

Farmers Weekly, 19 October 2011 

MP calls for greater investment in agricultural sciences

Roger Williams MP used this morning’s DEFRA questions to urge the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that the UK gets its share of the money for agricultural science included in the new CAP proposals and that it is distributed wisely.

Roger Williams said "I was encouraged to see the CAP reform will include investment in agricultural science. With food security increasingly becoming a problem, we need science to play its part in feeding people. more

Farming UK, 13 October 2011 

FERA plans soaring plant health services costs

The government has proposed dramatic increases in costs for its plant health services. The revised costs, proposed in a consultation by the Food and Environment Research Agency, would increase fees by more than 400% for some services. more

Farmers Weekly, 12 October 2011 

Food prices to be even more volatile, U.N. says

ROMEFood prices are likely to become more volatile in coming years, increasing the risk that more poor people in import-dependent countries will go hungry, the United Nations said in an annual report on food insecurity published Monday.

Global food price indices hit record highs in February and were a factor in the Arab Spring of unrest in north Africa and the Middle East. Prices have since eased but the U.N. report said economic uncertainty, low cereal reserves, closer links between energy and agriculture markets and rising risks of weather shocks were likely to cause more dramatic price swings in the future. more

Reuters, 10 October 2011  

Hybrid broccoli enters ‘superfood’ market

Broccoli will be marketed as Britain’s latest superfood, after a new hybrid variety richer in chemicals linked to a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular problems goes on sale on Tuesday. Marks and Spencer, the high street retailer, will be the first supermarket in the UK to offer Beneforté, a natural cross-breed of British broccoli with a wild growing Sicilian variety. more

Financial Times, 4 October 2011 

Food researchers advocate diversifying crops to face climate change

Responding to appeals for new tools to deal with the effects of climate change on food production, leading agriculturalists have released a series of studies focused on "climate proofing" crops critical to food security in the developing world.

The scientists behind the studies warn that the global agriculture industry relies on too few staple crops and has a narrowing oportunity to diversify crops, which are at an ever increasing threat from drought, flood and pests brought by climate change. more

Farming Online, 4 October 2011 

MEPs pledge to invest in research and innovation

A VOTE by MEPs to increase spending on research and innovation to meet the twin challenges of increased food demand and diminishing

The European Parliament backed plans to step up spending on agricultural research as part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 green paper which is a framework for research and innovation from 2014 to 2020.

MEPs also recognised the need for greater emphasis on knowledge transfer to give farmers access to cutting edge concepts and new technologies. more

Farmers Guardian, 28 September 2011 

Labour calls for ‘sensible’ GM debate

The UK needs to reignite talks on the potential of genetically modified crops to decide if farmers should use the technology to increase yields, the shadow DEFRA minister has said.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, Mary Creagh said a sensible debate needed to be had on whether GMs could play a part in helping farmers produce more while limiting their impact on the environment.

She said previous discussions had been led too much by politics and the spectre of ‘Frankenstein foods’ and said the UK needed to spend more time looking at the best science available to meet food production targets. more

Farmers Weekly, 27 September 2011 

Shiny’ wheat could reduce impact of climate change

Researchers at Bristol University are working on breeding crops which they believe could reduce global temperature by a significant amount in the face of climate change; scientists predict climate change would see hotter, more erratic weather disrupting growing patterns in Europe.

Crops which could reflect the sun’s rays away from the earth are being developed in Bristol as one of several measures aimed at reducing global warming and thereby mitigating climate change. The scientists in Bristol are attempting to develop wheat with ‘shinier’ leaves to reflect sunlight; they believe this could reduce the impact of a rise in global temperatures. more

Farming Online, 23 September 2011  


New research and development will help secure future supply of meat, fish and animal feed

The Technology Strategy - in collaboration with fellow partners in the Global Food Security Programme, Defra, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Scottish Government - is to invest nearly £16 million in twenty-nine major new collaborative research and development projects that will help to secure the sustainable supply of protein such as meat, fish and animal feed. A sustainable supply of such protein, for consumption by humans and animals, is essential for future food security.

The projects include innovative research and development in areas such as improving protein supply and utilisation from grassland, improving protein production from beef cattle while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing protein supply from arable crops, addressing key issues in aquaculture to improve production efficiency and investigating alternative high protein sources for animal feed. more

Technology Strategy Board, 23 September 2011

Kendall urges industry to promote GM wheat benefits

NFU president Peter Kendall has urged the farming industry to go out and promote the potentially ‘phenomenal’ benefits of genetically modified (GM) wheat to consumers.

Mr Kendall has welcomed the decision by Defra to approve a two-year trial of aphid resistant GM wheat, starting next spring at the Rothamsted Research Institute, in Hertfordshire.

But he acknowledged that in order for farmers realise the potential benefits of the research, the industry needs to explain them to the public to counter the inevitable ‘negatives’ that would appear in the media about the trial. more

Farmers Guardian, 22 September 2011

G20 Nations Turn to Agricultural Research for Food Security

The G20 group of major economies has for the first time put international agricultural research on its agenda, in an effort to take a long-term view on the fight for food security.

The group's first meeting on the topic has endorsed the key role of agricultural research not only in preventing global food crises, but also in making an effective contribution to economic growth.

The meeting, which took place in Montpellier, France last week, was hosted by the French presidency of the G20--the group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies. more

US AgNet, 21 September 2011 

Defra approves first UK GM wheat trial

DEFRA has approved the UK’s first GM wheat trial, which will be conducted by the Rothamsted Research institute in 2012 and 2013. 

The research will assess wheat that has been genetically modified to resist aphids.

Ministers approved the trial after the independent Advisory Committee of Releases to the Environment (ACRE), advised Defra it was satisfied that it would not result in any adverse effect on human health or the environment. more

Farmers Guardian, 16 September 2011

Communication key to debate on role of science in food production

Scientists, food industry and politicians must do more to communicate the benefits of agricultural technologies such as pesticides and GM crops to meet the challenge of ‘sustainable intensification’ in food production.
That was the central conclusion of yesterday’s meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Science and Technology in Agriculture.
Attended by high-level representatives from all sectors of the food chain, as well as scientists, government officials and members of both Houses of Parliament, the meeting focused on the impact of the global food security crisis on attitudes to food science, including a presentation of recent consumer research commissioned by the Crop Protection Association (CPA). more

Farm Business, 15 September 2011

FAO: soil degradation poses serious risk to food security

Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, warned last week that pressure on the world's soil resources and land degradation are posing a serious threat to global food security.

He called for a renewed international effort to assure sufficient fertile and healthy soils are conserved, both for future generations and to maintain productivity now. more

Farming Online, 15 September 2011

Scientists ask: How do we feed our children’s children?

Scientists from the Norwich Research Park in the UK have joined a call for greater recognition of the importance of plant research. They believe 'plant scientist' should take its rightful place beside 'doctor', 'lawyer' and 'vet' in the list of top professions to which our most capable young people aspire, according to a hard-hitting letter by an international group of botanists and crop scientists.

The letter – published in ‘New Phytologist’ – calls for a radical rethink of our approaches to plant science research and underlines how, with the Earth's growing human population, this often neglected branch of science is crucial to our long-term survival. more

Business Weekly, 13 September 2011

Low cereal stocks, extra demand keep prices high: FAO

World food prices were steady between July and August but extra demand for cereals kept their price high, the latest figures from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization showed Thursday.


The FAO Food Price Index averaged 231 points last month compared to 232 points in July. It was 26 percent higher than in August 2010 but seven points below its all-time high of 238 points in February this year.


Cereal prices rose, as even though production is expected to increase, it will not do so by enough to offset the additional demand, the FAO said. "Stocks continue to be low and prices continue to be high and volatile," the organisation said. more

The Independent, 12 September 2011

EU bans GM-contaminated honey from general sale

The European Union's highest court on Tuesday ruled that honey which contains trace amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn must be labelled as GM produce and undergo full safety authorisation before it can be sold as food.

In what green groups are calling a "groundbreaking" ruling, the decision could force the EU to strengthen its already near-zero tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). more

The Guardian, 7 September 2011

UN official: UK farming costs outweigh benefits

A senior UN official has said U.K. agriculture costs the country more in terms of environmental degradation than it contributes in food production. Asad Naqvi, programme officer for the economics and trade branch of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) said net farm income was worth over $1 billion less to the economy than soil erosion and water pollution cost the country.

Speaking at a conference on agricultural development in Paris, Mr Naqvi, said factors such as soil and water contamination, degradation of resources and loss of biodiversity resulting from farming practices made the industry unviable; he estimated the cost of the damage to be $8.36 billion (£5.23 bn) a year, compared to a net farm income of $7.10 billion (£4.44 bn) in 2010. more

Farming Online, 7 September 2011

Roasted crickets and toasted ants – coming to you courtesy of EU research millions

Fancy some scorpion soup? How about a mixed locust salad with bee crème brûlée for dessert? It may not sound like the most appetising of prospects but the European Union thinks all these could soon be on the menu.

Experts in Brussels believe insects and other creepy crawlies could be a vital source of nutrition which will not only solve food shortages but also help save the environment. They have launched a three million euro (£2.65 million) project to promote the eating of insects while also asking national watchdogs like the UK's Food Standards Agency to investigate the issue. more

The Telegraph, 4 September 2011 

Intensive farming 'better for wildlife than organic'

Organic farming can be less effective at protecting wildlife than intensive methods, according to research that undermines its claim to be the most environmentally friendly form of agriculture.

Farming systems such as organic that seek to share land between crops and wildlife inflict greater damage on biodiversity than conventional approaches that maximise crop yields, a major study has revealed.

Such "land-sharing" methods typically deliver lower yields than intensive farming and they require much more land to produce the same amount of food, scientists at the University of Cambridge and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found. This means that important wilderness habitats must be destroyed to create extra farmland, which easily outweighs any small benefits of making fields friendlier to wildlife.

The Times, 2 September 2011

Bird flu fear as mutant strain hits China and Vietnam

Avian flu shows signs of a resurgence, while a mutant strain - able to sidestep vaccines - could be spreading in Asia, the United Nations has warned.

The variant appeared in Vietnam and China and its risk to humans cannot be predicted, veterinary officials said.

Virus circulation in Vietnam threatens Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia, where eight people have died after becoming infected this year, they warned.

The World Health Organization says bird flu has killed 331 people since 2003. more

BBC News, 29 August 2011  

New genome sequence could improve important agricultural crops

An international team of scientists, funded in the UK by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has sequenced the genome of a Chinese cabbage variety of a plant called Brassica rapa, a close relative of oilseed rape. The research, which is published today (28 August) in the journal Nature Genetics, could help improve the efficiency of oilseed rape breeding, as well as that of a host of other important food and oil crops.

The project was conducted by an international consortium involving researchers working across four continents, with the majority of the data generated in China. The UK’s contribution came from scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich and Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, both of which receive strategic funding from BBSRC. more

Farming UK, 28 August 2011 

Natural England lacks confidence in badger cull plans

In response to Defra’s consultation on implementing and enforcing the badger cull, Natural England raises a number of concerns about the scientific justification and practicalities underpinning the proposed policy. more

Farmers Guardian, 24 August 2011

Farmers turn to social media to boost profits

Farmers are turning to social media as a way to promote their business and boost profits, a survey has revealed.

Far from the traditional image of the industry, increasing numbers of media-savvy farmers across the UK are using the likes of Twitter and Facebook to get advice, share ideas and keep up-to-date with developments.

A majority of farmers (53%) said they used social media, the main reasons being to communicate with customers and to flag-up farming-related issues. more

Farming UK, 22 August 2011 

Foreign aid could fund UK-based research into GM crops that can grow in drought-ridden Africa

The UK government is increasing Foreign Aid payments but is this aid solving a problem or just prolonging it? Whilst some of the aid does go towards in-country projects, too often this does not deliver sustainable improvements, or worse, it lines the pockets of dictators. At the same time, cuts in Government spending in agricultural research are now threatening our technology base.

“We should counter this by diverting some of our growing overseas aid payments into UK-based research towards developing GM crops resistant to drought, heat, pests and diseases," advises BCPC’s Chairman, Dr Colin Ruscoe. "This would provide sustainable solutions in famine-prone parts of the world. At the same time, we can use these technology platforms to target key UK crops – wheat, potatoes and oilseed rape.” more

Farming UK, 16 August 2011 

Consumers warming to GM foods as supply shortages loom

RISING food prices are bringing changes in the attitudes of consumers and more than one third of shoppers now believe genetically modified food should be sold in this country, according to research carried out on behalf of the Crop Protection Association.

The survey also shows a public desire for the UK to become more self-sufficient in food production, and believe the government should take the lead in using science to maintain a reliable supply of high quality, affordable food. more

The Scotsman, 6 August 2011  

Research cuts a blow to agriculture

THE proposed restructuring of Rothamsted Research will severely weaken the UK’s ability to develop sustainable agricultural systems, Prospect, the union representing agricultural and environmental scientists, has warned.

The research facility, based in Hertfordshire, which includes research stations at north Wyke, Devon, and Brooms Barn, Suffolk, has been told to reduce salary costs by 20 per cent by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which supplies its strategic funding.

In April, staffing levels for the three sites stood at 427 and the proposals could mean the loss of 85 posts. It has been said the losses will fall mainly in the area of crop protection including herbicide resistance, eelworm research and sugar beet research. more

Farmers Guardian, 4 August 2011 

Productivity is key to competitiveness, argues new SAC report 

New research by SAC’s Rural Policy Centre has revealed that, although Scotland’s agricultural productivity still compares well against other UK nations, productivity is not rising as fast as it was.  

The report’s authors describe this decline as ’worrying’ because of its potential impact on the industry’s position in export markets and the risk of losses of market share to imports.

The report suggests that to tackle the decline, more needs to be done to remove the barriers to farmers’ adoption of cost-saving, efficiency-boosting new technologies. more

Farming UK, 3 August 2011 

Researchers make breakthrough with bluetongue vaccine

RESEARCHERS have taken a step towards producing better vaccines against bluetongue. The findings could provide scientists with the tools to develop vaccines with useful new properties.

Professor Polly Roy of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the team, said: “We’ve developed the tools and provided the instruction manual for developing new, more effective bluetongue vaccines.

“This will not only be useful for combating bluetongue but will provide insights into fundamental virus assembly that will be useful for producing vaccines for other viruses.” more

Farmers Guardian, 2 August 2011 

Cows ‘may offer greener fuel key’ 

A cow's stomach could hold the key to creating more environmentally friendly versions of petrol and diesel, according to Edinburgh scientists.

Researchers are investigating how enzymes found in the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants, animals which "chew cud", could be used industrially.

The plan being to break down the tough structures of plant and tree matter.

The discovery and application of the enzymes could release untapped energy in waste plant products to make fuel. more

BBC News, 26 July 2011 

Protesters meet GM crop scientists

Anti-GM protesters and scientists have gone head to head in Norwich in a row over genetically modified potatoes.

Supporters of the group Stop GM staged a demonstration in the city, first gathering to eat non-GM chips in the city centre before travelling to a laboratory where researchers are trying to develop a blight-resistant potato using genetic modification.

Staff at the John Innes Centre, including director Professor Dale Sanders and Professor Jonathan Jones, who is leading the trial, came out to meet the campaigners and tried to debate with them. Prof Jones said: "I'm in favour of sustainable agriculture, as they are. We just have a different route to a solution."

He was given the chance to address the group of 40 to 60 demonstrators outside the centre, and told them: "We can do more to reduce the impact of agriculture by reducing the need for spraying to control crop disease in majority agriculture. And that's what we're trying to advance in this trial." more

Peterborough Evening Telegraph, 26 July 2011 

Vertical Farming: Can Urban Agriculture Feed a Hungry World?

Agricultural researchers believe that building indoor farms in the middle of cities could help solve the world's hunger problem. Experts say that vertical farming could feed up to 10 billion people and make agriculture independent of the weather and the need for land. There's only one snag: The urban farms need huge amounts of energy. more

Der Spiegel, 24 July 2011 

Give consumers choice on GM foods, urges Norfolk MP

Consumers must be given the right to choose to buy GM foods, according to Norfolk MP George Freeman.

And there must be a full public debate about this technology and Europe’s role in helping to meet the global challenge of feeding another two billion people within a generation.

The Mid-Norfolk MP said that consumers should also have the freedom of choice in their shopping baskets to buy healthy and functional foods grown using GM technology. more

Eastern Daily Press, 21 July 2011

BBC gives too much weight to fringe views on issues like climate change

The BBC is to revamp its science coverage after an independent review highlighted weaknesses and concluded that journalists boosted the apparent controversy of scientific news stories such as climate change, GM crops and the MMR vaccine by giving too much weight to fringe scientific viewpoints.

The wide-ranging review found the network's science reporting was generally of high quality, and praised the BBC for its breadth, depth and accuracy, but urged the broadcaster to tackle several areas of concern. more

The Guardian, 20 July 2011

Next steps to tackle bovine TB in England

Measures to tackle the devastating effect of bovine tuberculosis in England were announced by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today.

The Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England sets out a comprehensive and balanced package of measures to tackle TB in cattle, badgers and other animals, including the Government’s view that it is strongly minded to allow a science-led cull of badgers in the worst affected areas.

Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2010 because of bovine TB, which cost the country £90 million last year. The problem is particularly bad in west and south-west England, where 23 per cent of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to being affected by the disease. more

Defra, 19 July 2011 

Research cuts threaten future food sustainability

FARMING chiefs have slammed plans to streamline UK agricultural research giant Rothamsted, fearing the move could be a massive blow to the industry.

As Farmers Guardian exclusively revealed last week, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-funded body is to axe a number of jobs after bosses announced three of its departments would close later this year. more

Farmers Guardian, 15 July 2011 

Badger cull would not work – Krebs

THE scientist who instigated the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) has insisted that a badger cull would not be an effective way of controlling bovine TB (bTB).

Professor Lord John Krebs said the results was commenting on the publication of a Defra report suggesting that, based on the findings of the trial, culling badgers would reduce bTB incidence in cattle by approximately 12-16 per cent over a nine year period. more

Farmers Guardian, 12 July 2011 

Super spud on menu as genetic code is cracked

The full genetic code of the potato plant has been deciphered by scientists who say that it will lead to the rapid development of new disease-resistant varieties of the world's most important non-cereal food crop.

An international consortium of research organisations has sequenced the 840 million DNA "base pairs" that make up the 12 chromosomes of the potato genome. The breakthrough should lead to the identification of important genes that confer resistance to potato diseases such as late blight, a fungal infection that triggered the Irish potato famine of 1845.

It takes 10 to 12 years to breed a new variety of potato, but knowing the genome could cut the time by half and improve the end product by targeting the individual genes responsible for the desired traits, the scientists said. more

The Independent, 11 July 2011 

EU should sow the seeds of innovation to transform agriculture urgently, say Lords

Agricultural innovation must be at the heart of both Europe and the UK's policy-making, in an effort to respond to a rising global population, to the challenges of climate change and to food price volatility.

This is the core message of the House of Lords Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment EU Sub-Committee, which today reports the findings of its year-long investigation into innovation in EU agriculture. more

House of Lords, 7 July 2011 

MEP vote on GM ignores science

The European Parliament is setting a dangerous precedent for EU legislation by ignoring scientific advice on genetically modified crop varieties, the NFU has warned.

MEPs have backed a report, based on proposals from the European Commission (EC), which would allow Member States to disregard advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and ban the cultivation of GM crops for non-scientific reasons, such as socio-economic factors.

Dr Helen Ferrier, NFU chief science and regulatory affairs adviser, said the MEP report contained a variety of measures that would not only threaten the single market but also seriously hinder progress towards sustainable agriculture in the EU. more

Farming UK, 6 July 2011

G20 endorses international wheat improvement effort to improve food security

Agriculture Ministers from the G20 group of nations have adopted the International Research Initiative for Wheat Improvement (IRIWI), which will be funded for coordination activity in part by BBSRC.

The historic agreement between the Ministers of Agriculture of the G20 in Paris underlines the importance of increasing world agricultural production, in particular that of wheat, to resolve the urgent challenge of sustainably providing enough safe, nutritious and affordable food for a growing global population. more

BBSRC, 29 June 2011 

UK farming ‘unsustainable’, chief scientist warns

British farmers must change their management practices if they are to move towards more sustainable food production in future, the government’s chief scientist has warned.

Sir John Beddington said farmers would have to adapt to meet the challenges of producing more food with less environmental impact and less water, while dealing with climate change and increased demand for renewable energy and land. more

Farmers Weekly, 29 June 2011

GM wheat crop trial awaits government green light

A field trial of an experimental GM wheat will begin in March next year if government officials give the go-ahead for the crop to be planted.

One of Britain's leading plant research centres has applied for permission from the government to begin the trial of the GM crop, which is modified to resist attack by aphids. If approved, it would be only the third GM field trial running in Britain; the others, at the John Innes Centre in Norfolk and at Leeds University, are testing different varieties of GM potato. The project will require 24-hour security to prevent anti-GM protesters destroying the crop. more

The Guardian, 22 June 2011

High cereal and meat prices 'here to stay'

HIGH global cereal and meat prices are here to stay, a new report has warned ahead of this week’s G20 summit of agriculture ministers in Paris.

The report suggests that a good harvest across the world in the coming months should push commodity prices down from the extreme levels of earlier this year, which saw UK wheat prices top £200/tonnes at times.

However, the report by global institutions OECD and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that over the next 10 years, cereal prices could average as much as 20 percent higher than between 2001 and 2010. Meat could be 30 per cent higher. more

Farmers Guardian, 20 June 2011 

Funding to improve quality and yield of cereals

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has announced £3m worth of investment in six projects designed to improve the quality and yield of oilseed rape, barley and wheat. The projects, announced at Cereals 2011, are the first to be funded by the £7m Crop Improvement Research Club, which was established to support research which might help to address the challenges of climate change and food security.

The six projects will run for up to five years and focus on a range of problems including improving yield, developing pest and disease resistance, seed dispersal control (to reduce losses through pod shatter in oilseed rape), and improving traits for processing. more

Farmers Weekly, 15 June 2011 

Researchers close to cracking septoria code

Wheat varieties resistant to septoria are a step closer after researchers successfully identified how the fungus successfully evades the plant's own defences.

In the UK, the disease is estimated to cost the industry a 5-15% reduction in grain yield each year. The disease kills cells in the plant's leaves leaving large dead blotches which are unable to absorb energy from the sun. more

Farmers Weekly, 10 June 2011

Free global trade may threaten our food supplies

PLANT pathogens could cause a threat to our food supplies and our health, according to experts. Scientists from the UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme said increasing global trade may put us at greater risk from pathogens in the future, as more exotic diseases enter the country. 

In a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the academics took a fresh look at infectious diseases of animals and plants and said the process was already happening. The report said climate change was driving shifts in cropping patterns across the world and they could take pests and diseases with them. more 

Farmers Guardian, 9 June 2011

Government to review UK food production

The White Paper contains far reaching plans to ‘protect, restore and improve’ England’s natural environment, ‘repairing damage done to the environment in the past’. The plans are directly linked to the National Ecosystem Assessment, published last week, which what Defra describe as ‘strong economic arguments for safeguarding and enhancing the natural environment’. more

Farmers Guardian, 7 June 2011

World food prices set to remain high

High and volatile agricultural commodity prices are likely to prevail for the rest of this year and into 2012 according to the latest analysis published today in FAO’s biannual Food Outlook.

The report cites a sharp rundown on inventories and only modest overall production increases for the majority of crops as reasons for continuing strong prices. more

Farm Business, 7 June 2011

Areas where food supplies could be worst hit by climate change have been identified in a report. Some areas in the tropics face famine because of failing food production, an international research group says.

The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) predicts large parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will be worst affected. Its report points out that hundreds of millions of people in these regions are already experiencing a food crisis. more

The UK's parks, lakes, forests and wildlife are worth billions of pounds to the economy, says a major report. The health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year, it concludes.

The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) says that for decades, the emphasis has been on producing more food and other goods - but this has harmed other parts of nature that generate hidden wealth. Ministers who commissioned the NEA will use it to re-shape planning policy. more

Global food prices ‘to double’ by 2030

OXFAM has called for the global food system to be overhauled in response to fears staple food prices could more than double over the next 20 years. In a report, the charity predicts that prices of staple crops like wheat and maize will rise by 120 to 180 per cent by 2030.

 It says the biggest driver will be climate change, which could account for as much as half the increase, the report says. Other factors include the rising global population, changing diets, shortages of land and water and the use of crops for biofuels, it says. more

Farmers Guardian, 31 May 2011 

FSA adopts clone recommendations

The Food Standards Agency board has adopted recommendations that allow the descendants of cloned animals to enter the food chain without any prior authorisation.

Following advice from the European Food Safety Authority and the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, the FSA concluded in December 2010 that there were no food-safety grounds for regulating foods from the descendants of these animals. More

Farmers Weekly, 26 May 2011

Breeder’s tool kit to boost sustainable wheat farming

A new project being led by the John Innes Centre, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, is to develop a 'breeder's tool kit' that will help breed wheat varieties that produce higher quality flour and reduce wastage, boosting the economic and environmental sustainability of wheat farming in the UK.

Working with four breeding companies (RAGT, Limagrain, KWS and Lantmännen SW Seed) and the HGCA will ensure that this toolkit will be exactly what is needed to drive discoveries from fundamental research into improved varieties.  More

BBSRC, 24 May 2011 

Industry specialists to be trained in advanced food security skills under new scheme

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has awarded funding for four major new training programmes for industry specialists working in vital niche areas within the agri-food sector, it is announced today (23 May 2011).

The BBSRC Advanced Training Partnerships will provide postgraduate level professional development in the area of agriculture and food production for a large number of industry specialists across the UK. Scientific and technical staff working in the UK's agri-food sectors will be supported to develop the skills necessary to ensure the UK continues to make significant contributions towards national and global food security.  More

BBSRC, 23 May 2011

Nottingham scientists reveal genetic ‘wiring’ of seeds

The genetic ‘wiring’ that helps a seed to decide on the perfect time to germinate has been revealed by scientists for the first time.

Plant biologists at The University of Nottingham have also discovered that the same mechanism that controls germination is responsible for another important decision in the life cycle of plants — when to start flowering.

Their discovery throws light on the genetic mechanisms that plants use to detect and respond to vital environmental cues and could be a significant step towards the development of new crop species that are resistant to climate change and would help secure future food supplies.  More


Farm Business, 18 May 2011


Plant clinics scheme to boost food security


A "plant clinic" scheme to improve food security in developing nations has received a £6.8m boost from the UK and Swiss governments. The clinics, similar to human doctors' surgeries, offer local farmers advice on how to treat pests and diseases.


Organisers hope to collate data from front-line "plant doctors" in order to provide an early warning system. It is hoped that more than 400 clinics will be established in 40 countries over the next five years.  More


BBC News 17 May 2011

EU a leader in plant breeding research, JRC study concludes


The EU leads research in the field of innovation in plant breeding, but still lags behind in patenting the resulting technologies, a JRC study reveals. The report notes that 45 % of peer-reviewed scientific research publications in the field worldwide are produced in the EU, followed by North America with 32 %. On the other hand, 65 % of the total patenting of resulting technologies is carried out by US-based institutions. Twenty six percent of patents are registered by EU-based institutions.  More


European Commission, 12 May 2011


Global science network to protect against animal diseases


The UK will be better protected against animal diseases like avian flu and foot and mouth thanks to a global network of scientific research to be launched by Defra this week.  More


Defra, 10 May 2011


Farmers ‘save billions’ by using GM crops


Farmers across the world who grow genetically-modified crops have saved their businesses more than €3bn (£2.9bn) a year, according to analysis on the technology's impact.


A report on the socio-economic and environmental impact of GM crops between 1996 and 2009 found the technology saved farmers €46.5bn (£40.8bn) over the 14-year period.


The 173-page Global Biotech Crop Impact report also found that GM crops contributed significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. In 2009, the reduction in carbon was the equivalent of removing 7.8m cars from the road for one year.  More


Farmers Weekly, 19 April 2011


Common weed has hidden superpowers

A plant that used to be killed as a weed could soon be farmed for essential fatty acids. Innovative research sponsored by Defra shows that Corn Gromwell, rich in omega-3, could potentially be grown commercially in the UK for the first time.  More

Defra, 19 April 2011


EU lawmakers vote to widen proposed GM crop bans


BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union governments should be allowed to ban the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops based on environmental concerns including the prevention of "super weeds," EU lawmakers said on Tuesday.


EU countries should also be free to ban GM crops to protect local plants, habitats and alternative farming practices such as organic production, the European Parliament's influential environment committee said in a vote in Brussels.  More


Reuters, 13 April 2011


EU must stop ignoring science in food policies

The EU has been urged to stop ignoring science by appointing a chief scientific advisor to help guide policies on food and climate change as a matter of urgency.

The NFU said the EU must increase its efforts to fill the role to give the European Commission advice and support when it develops policy.  More

Farmers Weekly, 5 April 2011


Chief scientist calls for radical food overhaul


Global food production needs to be radically redesigned with a shift towards "climate smart" agriculture, a leading government scientist has claimed.

Sir John Beddington, the government's chief scientific advisor, said current food production systems were "untenable" and failing humanity.  More


Farmers Weekly, 4 April 2011

Cows fed linseed to stop them belching

The belching of cows causes methane to be produced, one of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Sir Paul McCartney, Lord Stern and a host of other celebrities have even suggested people should eat less meat and dairy to stop the problem.


However feeding cattle linseed can reduce the amount of methane by up to 40 per cent, according to studies presented at the British Society of Animal Science annual conference More


Daily Telegraph, 29 March 2011


 Photosynthesis project aims to boost food production


SCIENTISTS have been awarded over £6 million to improve the process of photosynthesis in a bid to boost food and energy production. The funding has been awarded by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the US NationalScience Foundation (NSF) to scientists in both countries.


Photosynthesis is the basis of energy capture from the sun in plants, algae and other organisms and allows biological systems to convert sunlight into food and the source of fossil fuels. But it has some ‘fundamental limitations’, according to BBSRC.  More


Farmers Guardian, 28 March 2011


Government failing on food

The price of groceries will continue to rise, Government watchdogs have warned, because of the failure of Britain to grow its own food. Food prices have already risen more than six per cent over the last year, forcing many households to cut down on luxuries.

Professor Tim Lang, the Government’s top food tsar, said prices are likely to rise even further, up to ten per cent, as oil prices go up and demand for basic commodities like wheat increases. He said the UK Government has failed to protect the country against these price shocks by encouraging farmers to grow our own fruit and vegetables or produce meat. In the last 20 years the amount of food imported into the UK has grown to 40 per cent.


In a damning final report from the Sustainable Development Commission, food commissioner Prof Lang said the problem of obesity will also continue to get worse as government has failed to change the nation’s eating habits. More


Daily Telegraph, 25 March 2011


Biofuel policy is causing starvation, says Nestlé boss

Soaring food inflation is the result of "immoral" policies in the US which divert crops for use in the production of biofuels instead of food, according to the chairman of one of the world's largest food companies.  

 Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, lashed out at the Obama administration for promoting the use of ethanol made from corn, at the expense of hundreds of millions of people struggling to afford everyday basics made from the crop.  More 

The Independent, 23 March 2011     

Britain ‘well placed’ to deal with disease outbreaks

THE UK’s science base is well placed to deal with emerging threats in viral diseases of livestock, according to some of the country’s leading scientists.Speaking at a BBSRC seminar in London last week, figures from research institutes across the UK outlined the infrastructure and research capabilities in place to ensure farmers and vets are armed to tackle any new diseases.  More

Farmers Guardian, 23 March 2011  

Genetic resistance to beat disease

Genetics and breeding for resistance are at the forefront of efforts by companies and researchers to protect farm animals against diseases.

"Genetics will increasingly walk hand-in-hand with vaccination to address many of the diseases that confront us," Prof Ivan Morrison, head of Infection and Immunity at the Roslin Institute, told a recent gathering of vets and industry leaders in London.   More

Farmers Weekly, 21 March 2011


Livestock emissions studied at new site

A special ‘green cow’ building has been unveiled at SAC’s Edinburgh campus. The unit, housing special equipment for accurate measurement of livestock inputs and outputs, has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Scottish Government, with additional investment by SAC.


Prof Bill McKelvey, SAC chief executive, stressed while UK agriculture produces 7 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and ruminants are linked to about a third of the methane production, livestock were also vital in converting the grassland so abundant in Scotland into food for human consumption.  More

Farmers Guardian, 17 March 2011 





In March 2010 the House of Lords Environment and Agriculture Committee (EU Sub-Committee D) published the report ‘ Adapting to Climate Change: EU Agriculture & Forestry’.  


A debate will be held on the report in the House of Lords, on the afternoon of Thursday 24 March. A copy of the report is available here



Farming must get priority warns top scientist


FARMING and food production must be made a higher priority if the country’s farming industry is to cope with challenges in the future, the Government’s top scientist has warned.


Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said farming needed to be moved up the policy agenda if the country and planet were to feed themselves in the face of huge projected increases in population.


A recent Government report overseen by Prof Beddington said the world would need to produce 40 per cent more food over the next 20 years in order to cope with swelling populations. And it warned the current world food system was “fundamentally unsustainable” and “failing”. More


Yorkshire Post, 15 March 2011 


Scientists develop heart-healthy crops


SCIENTISTS at Aberystwyth University are developing new varieties of a traditional crop which could help lessen the danger of heart disease.


That is claimed to be one of the health benefits of a chemical called beta glucan which is found in oats, a crop that can cope with the poorer agricultural land and the wetter climate of areas like west Wales.


Research has shown that the chemical can help trap cholesterol and stop it from entering the bloodstream, so experts at the university’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences are breeding varieties of oats with higher beta glucan content.  More


Farmers Guardian, 14 March 2011 


Food prices rising faster in Britain than rest of Europe


Food inflation in January ran at 6.3 %, on an annual basis, compared with an average of 1.5 % in the Eurozone, according to official figures collected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an influential group of the 30 richest nations.


Food prices climbed by 0.3 % in Ireland and 0.1 %, our two closes neighbours, which are supplied, in some cases, by the same food manufacturers. In Italy they increased by 1.6 % and 2.8 % in Germany. In most countries outside of the Eurozone, prices also climbed more modestly in, with increases of 2.1 % in America and 2.5 % in Australia, despite floods in the country, wiping out many of its crops.


The average standard loaf of sliced bread is now £1.25, up from £1 just three years ago. The monthly set of figures from the OECD raises questions about how well supermarkets are doing when it comes to protecting their customers from spiralling global food prices that have hit meat, dairy and wheat products especially hard. More


Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2011


Globalisation and agriculture industry exacerbating bee decline, says UN

Globalisation is killing bees, as bee pests and diseases are being passed swiftly around the world thanks to the opening up of trade, says a UN study. Attempts to industrialise pollination are making the problem even worse, the authors found.


Unexplained bee deaths have become an increasing issue around the world in the past five years, a phenomenon labelled "colony collapse disorder". Bees in the US, Europe and Asia have been affected, though it is hard to gather reliable data on how many of them died. Some bee colonies die off naturally all the time, chiefly in winter, but the scale of the demise reported by beekeepers has prompted governments and scientists to examine why bees appear to be under threat, and in some cases to try to get around the problem by changing the ways bees are kept. More


The Guardian, 10 March 2011


GM opposition threatens food security

PUBLIC opposition to GM technology across Europe is jeopardising farmers’ ability to respond to the food security challenge according to NFU combinable crops chairman Ian Backhouse.


Speaking at an NFU West Midlands arable event ‘Growing Locally, Farming Globally’, he said EU farmers were being denied a technology widely accepted in other parts of the world and that this must change if UK and EU farming wants to rise to the challenges laid out by the Foresight report.  More


Farmers Guardian, 9 March 2011

A gene that increases a rice plant's resistance to floods also boosts its ability to recover from droughts, a study has shown. Researchers found that the gene, Sub1A, allowed to plants to survive by growing fresh shoots after a period of drought

Rice is the primary food for three billion people, and more than 25% the world's harvest is grown in areas that experience extreme weather conditions. Details have been published in the journal The Plant Cell.  More

Anaerobic digestion on farms could turn agriculture green

A typical dairy farm could supply most of the electricity it needs to milk the cows, by converting their manure into energy. And it would help the Government to hit green energy targets and cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to researchers from the UK research councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme.

The interdisciplinary project, based at the universities of Southampton and Reading, has researched the potential for small-scale farm-based anaerobic digestion plants. It found that relatively small digesters could be economically viable when fed with mixtures of animal slurries and imported wastes or energy crops, and had the potential to boost the profits of both arable and dairy farms.

Wider adoption of the technology would also help farming to become greener. Digesting the slurry produced by one dairy cow has the potential to reduce methane emissions by 25 kg, and generate 1000 kWh of electricity per year – equivalent to three months’ electricity consumption for an average household.  More

Farm Business, 4 March 2011

Report evaluates Greenhouse Gas effects of European livestock

The European Commission has published a new report looking at the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) effects of European livestock.

It was commissioned to provide an estimation of the net emissions of GHG generated by EU animal production on the basis of a life-cycle assessment. The calculations estimate a total Global Warming Potential (GWP) of European Livestock production of 661 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, equivalent to 9.1% to 12.8% of total EU emissions (2004), depending on the assumptions for emissions from land use and land use change.

This is considerably lower than the estimated 18% figure for global production presented in the 2006 FAO report "Livestock’s long shadow". More

Farm Business, 4 March 2011

USA watches as wheat rust makes a damaging comeback

A fungus under control for 50 years is back and ravaging wheat crops in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Once it gets in a field, it corrodes the stalks, turning them shades of brown and red that gives the disease, wheat stem rust, its name. Farmers can do little but harvest what's left, sometimes losing 60% of their crop.

Plant breeders struggled with it in the 1960s, believing they had finally beaten it into submission with new wheat strains. But now, after 50 years of remission, it's roaring back, and it has U.S. agriculture officials on high alert for any sign of its return in this country.

The concern is great enough that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, together with the United Kingdom, just awarded $40 million to help combat this ancient scourge that could cause major disruptions to the world's food supply.  More

USA Today, 3 March 2011

University course to ‘dispel Frankenfood myth’

THE University of East Anglia (UEA) has announced a ‘groundbreaking’ new course that will explore farming’s role, including the use of GM crops, in addressing global food security.

The university’s MSc in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security, which will start this September, will be the first of its kind in the country.

Course organisers said the course would ‘explore the cutting edge agricultural techniques needed to feed a rocketing global population’ and ‘help dispel the ‘Frankenfood’ myth’.  More

Farmers Guardian, 1 March 2011

Manure happens

Scientists speaking at the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, today (28 February) say it will be difficult but nevertheless important to significantly reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) while also improving the diets of a growing global human population.  The experts are taking part in a discussion meeting on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.  

Large quantities of N2O are currently emitted by the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and from livestock manure in farming. The agricultural sector produces 70-80% of all anthropogenic N2O emissions. Following CO2, and methane, N2O is the third most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and it is also a reactant in the destruction of the ozone layer.   More

Royal Society, 28 February 2011

Consumers seeking ‘value’ as food prices rise

THE vast majority of shoppers are expecting food prices to rise and are actively seeking out value in order to deal with this, according to a consumer survey. IGD shows that more than 91 per cent think food prices will be higher in the next 12 months.

One-third of these believe food will be much more expensive, up from 19 per cent in October 2010. The latest ShopperTrack research also shows a quarter of shoppers say they will buy more of the lowest-priced supermarket private label products in the next 12 months, compared to 18 per cent in October 2010.  More

Farmers Guardian, 24 February 2011

GM crops continue spread, passing ‘billion hectares’

The area of the world's farmland used for growing genetically modified crops increased by about 10% last year.  GM use grew fastest in Brazil but fell in the EU, says the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Virtually all GM strains used were engineered for just two traits, disease resistance and herbicide tolerance.  More 

BBC News, 22 February 2011

Milk from cloned cows given green light by Defra 

Milk and meat from the offspring of cloned animals should be allowed to go on sale, according to a government minister.  The comments are the clearest sign that the Government will give the official green light to farmers and food companies who want to supply butchers and supermarkets with the controversial products. 

However, animal welfare campaigners said they were "utterly dismayed" by the ministerial statement, saying it opened the door to widespread cloning, with consumers unable to tell whether they were eating meat originating a cloned animal or not.

The statement was made by Jim Paice, the food and farming minister, in response to a written question from Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP. More

Daily Telegraph, 22 February 2011

Wheat breeding given £7m boost 

LEADING UK plant breeding scientists have been awarded a £7 million grant to develop a breeding programme to increase the diversity of traits in wheat.


In the first project of its type for 20 years, a consortium of scientists from leading plant research institutes will identify ‘new and useful’ genetic variation from ancient sources of wheat.


The project was announced on Monday by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which claimed it would contribute to addressing the global food security problem.  More


Farm Business, 21 February 2011


'Superdairy' plan shelved over pollution concerns

Plans for the biggest dairy farm in western Europe have been withdrawn following an outcry from local and national campaigners.

Two dairy farmers said concern about groundwater pollution lay behind their cancellation of the £34m Nocton Dairies in Lincolnshire which would have housed almost 4,000 cows. 

A total of 14,000 protests had been lodged against the development. Animal welfare groups welcomed its scrapping as a victory against the arrival of American-style industrial farms. More


The Independent, 17 February 2011


Centre provides network for food and farming


TWO leading UK institutes have joined forces with food retailer Waitrose to establish a new centre aimed at helping the UK farming and food sector meet increasing challenges in food production and sustainability.


Called the Centre of Excellence for UK Farming - CEUKF - the new centre will provide a network of expertise to help ensure that the best information and advice on developments in science, innovation and practical know-how are accessible to provide real benefits across the supply chain.


From the outset the centre will link and interact with partners in applied research and industry, and with policy-makers and stakeholders. The two founding institutes are the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), in Cambridge. More


Farmers Guardian, 15 February 2011

Farmers seek national food plan as imports rise

Britain needs a national food plan that makes production a strategic priority and curbs its increasing reliance on imports, Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union said on Tuesday.


Kendall told the NFU's annual conference that global food prices were at an all-time high and had played a role in major upheavals in North Africa.


He questioned the morality of rich countries such as Britain in allowing their own agriculture production to decline and expecting to be fed by the rest of the world. More


Reuters, 15 February 1011


Research strategy launched to help meet food security challenge


The UK’s major public funders of national and international food-related research have today (10 February) published their co-ordinated plan for research to help the world avoid a potential food security crisis.


Providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable and secure supply of safe, nutritious and affordable high quality food from less land and with lower inputs presents a considerable challenge. In order to meet this effectively, Research Councils, Government Departments and other public bodies are co-ordinating their research activities related to food and agriculture through the Global Food Security programme.


The programme has now published its strategic plan, which outlines how the partners intend to work together across four cross-disciplinary research themes for food security: economic resilience, resource efficiency, sustainable food production and supply and sustainable, healthy, safe diets.  More


10 February 2011

Large dairies may help global food challenge

Large dairies can make a valuable contribution to meeting the global challenge of producing more food while looking after the environment, Nocton Dairies director Peter Willes has told a veterinary conference.


Nocton Dairies has claimed that its proposed 3,770 cow-unit in Lincolnshire can significantly boost UK milk production, while operating with the lowest carbon footprint in the country and the ‘highest standards of animal welfare seen in the UK’.  More


Farmers Guardian, 9 February 2011


World food prices reach new historic peak


World food prices surged to a new historic peak in January, for the seventh consecutive month, according to the updated FAO Food Price Index, a commodity basket that regularly tracks monthly changes in global food prices.

The Index averaged 231 points in January and was up 3.4 percent from December 2010.


This is the highest level (both in real and nominal terms) since FAO started measuring food prices in 1990. Prices of all monitored commodity groups registered strong gains in January, except for meat, which remained unchanged. More


FAO, 3 February 2011


£15m for agricultural research and development unveiled

Scientific research into increasing agricultural output is to get a £15m boost in the next stage of the government's £90m investment plan.

Following last year's £13.5m fund for developing new approaches to crop protection, the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform is looking for research institutions and companies to pitch for a share of the £15m available.


Projects are expected to run for three to five years and will explore increasing sustainably-produced vegetable protein for animal feed and more efficient livestock production. More


Farmers Weekly, 3 February 2011


Arctic bird could boost weight gain in broiler hens

Researchers report that an arctic relative of the grouse has evolved to be able to move efficiently while carrying winter weight - a discovery that could have relevance to the welfare of broiler hens and future food production.

A team from the University of Manchester, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has studied the Svalbard rock ptarmigan within the arctic circle in collaboration with colleagues at Norway's Tromso University.

Dr Jonathan Codd, who led the research team, said: "We can learn a lot from the Svalbard rock ptarmigan because it is so well adapted for life in an extreme environment. Like most wild birds, they put on fat for the winter, and this can be up to 32% of their body weight.” More


Farmers Weekly, 2 February 2011


Project could reduce methane emissions from sheep


A UNIQUE tool to model the impact genetic improvement can play in reducing methane emissions from lamb production is being examined in a new project in Wales.


Commissioned by red meat promotion agency, Hybu Cig Cymru, the aim is to demonstrate that reductions in methane emissions can be achieved without compromising production.


Estimates suggest that agricultural production contributes roughly 9 per cent of the total annual Welsh emissions. More


Farmers Guardian, 1 February 2011 

New guidelines aid disease research

Research into the spread of animal diseases is set to become more effective with the use of new guidelines.

Scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow have produced a checklist for researchers which will also help policymakers interpret data used to inform animal and public health decisions.


The guidelines, known as The Guide to Good Practice for Quantitative Veterinary Epidemiology, include more than 200 recommendations to ensure best practice for areas including computer modelling, data interpretation and communicating with policymakers. More


Farmers Weekly, 1 February 2011



End of cheap food era as prices stay high


U.S. grain prices should stay unrelentingly high this year, according to a Reuters poll, the latest sign that the era of cheap food has come to an end.


U.S. corn, soybeans and wheat prices -- which surged by as much has 50 percent last year and hit their highest levels since mid-2008 -- will dip by at most 5 percent by the end of 2011, according to the poll of 16 analysts.


The forecasts suggest no quick relief for nations bedeviled by record high food costs that have stoked civil unrest. It means any extreme weather event in a grains-producing part of the world could send prices soaring further. More


Reuters, 28 January 2011


‘Agricultural revolution’ needed to fight food shortages

There needs to be a worldwide agricultural revolution, with farmers growing more food at less cost to the environment, environment secretary Caroline Spelman and international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said today.
Responding to Foresight’s report on global food and farming futures, Mrs Spelman and Mr Mitchell said that there was a role for governments, the private sector and consumers to play throughout the entire food system in achieving future food security.


Caroline Spelman said: “We need a global, integrated approach to food security, one that looks beyond the food system to the inseparable goals of reducing poverty, tackling climate change and reducing biodiversity loss – and the UK Government is determined to show the international leadership needed to make that happen.” More


Farm Business, 24 January 2011

Organic vs conventional row must stop


THE organic and conventional farming lobbies have been urged to put their differences behind them and stop bickering over which system is best to meet the global food challenge.


Speaking at the launch of the Government-backedForesight Report on Food and Farming Futures, one of its lead authors said it was vital theindustry moved away from the ‘our system is better than yours’ arguments which have plagued the industry.


Jules Pretty, pro-vide chancellor at the University of Essex, said the challenges of food security could be met using both conventional and organic methods and that farmers now needed to work together. More


Farmers Guardian, 24 January 2011

Scientists face 'shocking levels' of vilification over discoveries


Scientists are being subjected to shocking levels of personal vilification and distrust, Britain's most senior scientist has warned.


Sir Paul Nurse, the new president of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of sciences, urged scientists to take on those critics who have cast doubt on the veracity of scientific discoveries ranging from the link between climate change and man-made carbon dioxide to the benefits of GM crops.


Sir Paul said many scientists felt under attack from critics in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, but rather than retreating into their ivory towers they needed to speak directly to the people who paid their wages. More


The Independent, 24 January 2011


Britons must swallow fear of GM crops to feed world


The British public must overcome its fear of "Frankenstein foods" and accept that genetically modified crops are necessary to feed the world's growing population, a government report will suggest today.


Despite widespread popular concern about the health and environmental risks posed by GM produce, scientists are increasingly convinced that they are essential to global food supply. The Food and Farming report was commissioned by the Department of Business to look at ways in which the world can feed itself over the next 40 years.


It is feared that the growth of the world population to as many as nine billion people, coupled with climate change, will cause food shortages and starvation.


Sir John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser who is leading the team behind the report, said new technologies such as GM will have to be used to feed the population. More


Daily Telegraph, 24 January 2011


Genetically modified crops are the key to human survival, says UK's chief scientist


Moves to block cultivation of genetically modified crops in the developing world can no longer be tolerated on ethical or moral grounds, the government's chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, has warned. He said the world faced "a perfect storm" of issues that could lead to widespread food shortages and public unrest over the next few decades. His warning comes in the wake of food riots in north Africa and rising global concern about mounting food prices.


"A number of very important factors are about to change our world," said Beddington, an expert in population biology. "Its population is rising by six million every month and will reach a total of around 9,000 million by 2050. At the same time, it is estimated that by 2030 more than 60% of the population will be living in cities and will no longer be involved in growing crops or raising domestic animals. And on top of that the world's population is getting more prosperous and able to pay for more food." More


The Observer, 23 January 2011



GM lab creates chicken that cannot spread bird flu 

Scientists have developed a way of curbing the spread of avian flu with the help of genetically modified chickens that do not spread the virus. The chickens have an extra piece of DNA inserted into their genomes which produces a "decoy" molecule that blocks the replication of the influenza virus and prevents transmission to the rest of the flock.


Researchers believe the breakthrough could eventually lead to the creation of GM poultry, pigs and other livestock that are fully resistant to a range of infectious diseases. They also said that the development could help to lower the risk of transmitting dangerous animal viruses to humans.  More

The Independent, 14 January 2011


Farm reform, biotech are key to feeding world by 2050: study


Massive changes in farming practices, eating habits and consumption will be needed to feed Earth's population sustainably when it hits nine billion in 2050, French scientists warned on Wednesday.


In under 40 years, the world will have to make farming more productive but less dependent on harmful chemicals, curb food losses and waste, protect the environment and reduce agriculture's exposure to disastrous price swings, they said.


Their study, called Agrimonde (Agriworld in French), is co-authored by specialists at France's National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and the International Cooperative Centre for Agronomical Research for Development (CIRAD). More

AFP, 12 January 2011

Crop research given £20m boost

A TWENTY million pound fund has been offered to the world’s top plant scientists to improve food security and increase sustainable crop yields in the developing world within the next 5-10 years.


Research teams have been invited to step forward if they can show an ability to increase the disease-resistance and drought tolerance of staple crops in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The fund is made up of contributions from the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (through a grant to BBSRC), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Indian Department of Biotechnology. More


Farmers Guardian, 11 January 2011 



UN warns record food prices put millions at risk


The United Nations warned Friday millions of people are at risk after global food prices hit their highest level ever, as clashes over rising prices erupted in Algeria this week.


Surging prices for cooking oil, cereal and sugar in particular, "will affect millions of people," Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, told AFP.


The FAO's food price index, an average of monthly price changes for meat, dairy, cereals, oil and sugar, hit 214.7 points in December -- the highest level since the index began in 1990.  More

AFP, 7 January 2011 

World food prices enter 'danger territory' to reach record high

Soaring prices of sugar, grain and oilseed drove world food prices to a record in December, surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in "danger territory".


An index compiled monthly by the United Nations surpassed its previous monthly high – June 2008 – in December to reach the highest level since records began in 1990. Published by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the index tracks the prices of a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy, meat and sugar, and has risen for six consecutive months. More


The Guardian, 5 January 2011



Population must be limited or world will face hunger


Society is failing to address the key challenge it faces over the next 40 years - whether the world can actually sustain a population of nine billion.


Aubrey Manning's keynote speech at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday, 5 January, asked whether the forecast population was realistic, manageable or sustainable. "Whatever your cause, it is a lost cause unless you limit population." More


Farmers Weekly, 5 January 2011



Widening food gap will mean shortages unless Government acts

NFU president Peter Kendall has used his New Year’s message to warn that the UK’s food gap is set to widen further unless the Government takes action to reverse the trend.

He said: “2011 will see the new government laying the policy foundations that will be critical to whether Britain’s farmers can rise to the food production challenge of the next twenty years.
“The UK’s own population is set to grow from today’s 62 million to over 70 million by 2030. If home production levels stay the same, we’ll become ever more dependent on imports. As it is, we’re already buying in more than 40% of our food, up from around 25% twenty years ago. With eight million more mouths to feed we’ll be edging towards one in every two meals coming, in effect, from food grown abroad. More


Farm Business, 1 January 2011

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