Scientists apply for GM wheat trial in UK

BBC – Friday 4th November 2016

Researchers are pushing through a licence to trial GM wheat in the UK, dragging out tired arguments about the need to feed a growing world as their justification. Professor Christine Raines at Essex University argues that the trial is important in order to determine new ways to increase food production. The GM wheat on trial is supposed to be more efficient at converting sunlight through photosynthesis, increasing plant growth and yields. Raines feels that the moment is ripe for such experimentation, claiming that opposition to GMOs is waning among the public, with little protest against a recent outdoor oilseed rape trial carried out by Rothamsted Research.

Whether public opposition to GMOs is on the decline or not is subject to debate. What is less debatable is whether we need GMOs to feed a growing world – yields on GMO crops have stabilised and there is an increasing body of evidence to show that taking care of the soil is a much better way of increasing production. Further, we have a rampant waste problem, as Martin Bowman points out, and fixing that is certainly the first place to start. As far as GM wheat goes, there is little need or market for it, as Peter Melchett of the Soil Association notes in his comment, so given all this, wouldn’t it be better to put our research money elsewhere, rather than into a crop that few people want?

Waitrose turns to GM-free European soya for pig feed

Farmers Weekly – Tuesday 1st November 2016

Waitrose delivers a blow to imported GM crops in animal feed, in a bid to improve their supply chain security. The supermarket has taken the next step in the process of removing GM feed from their meat, by sourcing GM-free soya from Eastern Europe. Concerned with the link between South American GM crops and deforestation on the continent, the company is seeking to make their supply chain more sustainable by bringing production closer to home and sourcing GM-free feed. Using GM-free European soya as pig feed is a further step in removing the controversial technology from their animal feeds – the bulk of the company’s animal feeds are now GM-free. While Waitrose is characterising the shift as a means of increasing sustainability rather than an attack on GM feed, it inevitably makes a statement about its declining desirability and problematic environmental impacts.

Climate change could see soils releasing GHGs

Farming Online – Friday 4th November 2016

A new report on climate change and its impact on soils brings some very bad news. Soils, which are already widely degraded across the world, face further degradation with the potential to release a quarter of the carbon that they hold in the next hundred years. If land-use change and poor land management practice continues, soil could become a net source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as climate change takes hold.

Soil could be a key mitigator of climate change, by locking up carbon – but for it to be effective in this, soil must be healthy, teeming with microbial life that makes it fertile, rich with organic matter, porous on its surface and with good tilth to allow plant roots to spread. Degraded soil that is harmed by poor soil management, heavy chemical use and erosion, can’t hold carbon and consequently releases it into the atmosphere in carbon dioxide. Nearly a quarter of global GHG emissions come from agriculture already, and with climate change this will worsen. Without a radical change in how we manage and care for our soils, we will continue to lose carbon from soils and that could mean significant impairment to agricultural production, as well as soil’s ability to retain water which is key in preventing flooding and erosion.

With the failure of the EU Soil Directive, which would have defined soil as a non-renewable resource, there are few measures to ensure that further soil degradation does not continue. This was noted in the recent report by the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee. The lead author on the study, Dr. Jeroen Meersman of the University of Exeter commented that, “[the] promotion of land use changes and management that contribute to soil carbon sequestration remains essential in an integrated strategy to protect soil functions and mitigate climate change.” This is desperately needed.

FDF dismisses calls for more farmers to be protected by adjudicator

FG Insight –  Saturday 5th November 2016

The Food and Drink Federation is opposing the extension of the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s remit to include farmers, most of whom are what is called ‘tier two suppliers’ because they do not sell directly to retailers. It’s not surprising that the FDF would oppose the expansion of what little power the Adjudicator has to regulate industry practices, as it can only serve to curb how they operate.

Calls for an expansion of the Adjudicator’s powers have been increasing in the wake of the crisis in the dairy market early in 2016 when the price dropped by half. Farmers are generally at the mercy of the industry, subject to order cancellations, payment delays and other practices. Price setting is not an area that the Adjudicator has had jurisdiction to intervene in, especially in relation to the ‘tier two suppliers’. However, the NFU makes the point that bringing farmers under the jurisdiction of the Adjudicator through this extension is “absolutely necessary” for farmers to be profitable and competitive. NFU Food Chain Advisor Christine McDowell acknowledges “We need a level playing field for all producers.” Having some protection in the Adjudicator is a critical step towards this.

How the California Grain Campaign is working to get local whole grain bread to your table

LA Times – Thursday 3rd November 2016

The California Grain Campaign recently launched this past October to ensure that by 2020, 20% of the flour in bread and other baked goods sold at the state’s great farmers’ markets is locally grown. The Campaign is modelled on a similar initiative pioneered by Greenmarket/GrowNYC which runs and manages farmers’ markets in New York City. The New York initiative reinvigorated local grain production out of a need to meet the supply demand from bakers.

Inspired by what was done in New York, The California Grain Campaign founders are building a new economy for local grains through farmers’ markets, using grass-roots activism to bring customers together with bakers and grain producers. The Campaign is focused on whole grain flours and artisan bread-making, hoping to generate infrastructure to support the production of a new kind of bread, one that is actually both healthy and tasty – two characteristics that have virtually disappeared from bread as it became industrialised. The Campaign also ensures that bakers at farmers’ markets keep local, which also keeps it real.

Photograph: Chiot’s Run

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