Prioritise agri-tech innovation to address global food security concerns

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A fresh approach to agricultural innovation in Britain is needed to meet the challenge of increasing food security concerns, according to a new report exploring the economic and environmental opportunities linked to embedding agri-tech innovation in farming.

A new report, entitled ‘What are the economic and environmental benefits of embracing agricultural innovations, and how do we get there?’ is published today. It finds that, against a backdrop of supply chains already stretched by climate events, global demand and pandemic disruption they are now further stressed by inflation and global instability. This brings into stark focus the need for the UK Government to embrace innovations that can unlock significant economic and environmental benefits and play a role in addressing the complex challenges faced.

The UK now has the opportunity to re-join the mainstream of global agricultural innovation. Effective divergence from EU regulatory policy and the adoption of science-based approaches which accept, prioritise and establish a clear path for the commercialisation of these technologies will be crucial.

The report welcomes the historic steps being taken towards a more positive regulatory environment for gene-editing and encourages the UK Government to go further and set out a clear, near-term path for the future commercialisation of technologies to ensure further inward investment in biotechnology and help farmers grow resilient crops to meet growing demand.

Other recommendations from the report include:

1. Diverging effectively from the EU through an empowered regulator that makes independent science-based decisions and collaborates with other stakeholders across the food supply chain, including industry to enable agility and responsiveness

2. Maintain consumer confidence about the safety of new technologies, including how the sustainable intensification of agriculture will be central to meeting the climate challenge. As well as this, consumers need greater freedom to choose healthy and nutritious food that has minimal environmental impact

3. Continued investment in research and development in agricultural innovations

With the global population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050[1], farmers need to produce 70% more food [2]. Conditions for farming are also getting tougher, with increasingly dramatic weather patterns putting pressure on already fragile eco-systems – now more than ever farmers need access to all the innovations available to play their full role in meeting global food security needs.

Mark Buckingham, Chair of Agricultural Biotechnology Council said:

“UK food security is about meeting the challenge to produce high-quality, affordable food as sustainably as possible whilst increasing productivity and competing with imports. This means responding to the consequences of climate change and the threat from climate events such as drought, extreme heat or flooding, or indeed biological threats such as pests. There is a clear need to build greater resilience into the UK food and farming system by providing a choice of crops with greater nutritional value that require less land, in order to respond to the Net Zero challenge and reduce agricultural emissions.”

Prof. Jonathan Jones FRS, The Sainsbury Laboratory

“The Sainsbury Laboratory has spent decades investigating how plants resist disease. We now know enough to identify plant immune receptors that prevent important crop diseases and stack them via genetic modification to render the crop essentially immune, greatly reducing the need to spray agrichemicals. In particular, a new blight resistant potato variety, PiperPlus 1.0, is technically ready to be deployed. Frustratingly, six years since the Brexit vote, dysfunctional regulation still prevents such solutions being brought to public use.”

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