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In this piece for The Conversation, researcher Elise Wach discusses the consolidation of farmland in the UK and rising farmland prices. According to Wach, there were nine times more small farms in England 15 years ago than there are today, and the number of high-intensity large farms is rising swiftly.
A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease”, has been confirmed on a farm in Aberdeenshire. The case was discovered before entering the human food chain, and Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon has said that all necessary measures have been taken to protect consumers.
Two commentary pieces question the findings of the study “Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption With Cancer Risk”, which claims that higher organic food consumption is associated with a lower risk of cancer. The pieces point out that only two cancer types showed a statistically significant reduction in risk, and that the reduction in cancer risk only appeared to hold true for older women, not men, younger adults or people with a high overall quality of diet.
The UK government has announced £15 million of funding for a pilot project to subsidise the redistribution of surplus food from retailers and manufacturers. The project will focus on fresh food. The decision follows a campaign led by The Grocer magazine.
A feature in the New Food Economy explores how the difficulty of finding farmland at an affordable price presents a barrier to new farmers in the United States. Two online tools have been developed to help farmers find land: Farm to Farmer, which matches farm owners to land seekers, and the Finding Farmland Calculator, which aims to demystify the costs of owning farmland.
The current front-runner for Brazil’s presidency, Jair Bolsonaro, member of the right-wing Social Liberal Party, proposes to abolish Brazil’s ministry of environment, hand control of agricultural policies to politicians who advocate reducing land conservation and expanding agricultural lands, withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on climate change, and open indigenous lands to mining.
California agritech startup Iron Ox has unveiled an “autonomous farm”, where robots move plants and transplant them from one stage to the next. Artificial intelligence controls pests and diseases and adjusts growing conditions. The farm is not entirely automated, as humans still sow seedlings and package the harvested crops. The farm produces leafy greens and herbs.
A new law requires that state institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and prisons in California must provide a vegan menu option. The move has been welcomed by health and animal welfare campaigners.
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council has passed a resolution concluding the UN Declaration for the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. The Declaration will be used to influence national policies on food, agriculture, seeds and land, while keeping in mind the interests of rural food producers - if, that is, the Declaration is adopted by all UN Member States after a vote in November.
A new lab-grown meat startup, Meatable, claims that it has overcome a key technical barrier - the use of serum from unborn animals to grow cells. Meatable’s meat-growing process allegedly does not need serum, because it uses pluripotent stem cells (avoided by other startups because they are hard to control). Meatable also claims their process only needs to take one cell from an animal (as opposed to a larger piece of tissue).
A traditional variety of corn grown by people from Sierra Mixe in southern Mexico can thrive in poor soils without needing much extra fertiliser. A group of researchers have shown that the plant is able to draw nitrogen from the air through mucus-laden aerial roots on its stems. It’s hoped that the trait can eventually be bred into commercial corn strains.
Startup New Age Meats has served the world’s first lab-grown pork sausages to journalists. The fat and muscle cells were allegedly grown from pork cells extracted from a live pig - in contrast to the world’s first lab-grown burger, showcased in 2013, where the initial cell samples came from slaughtered cattle.
An op-ed by Phat Beets Produce and Food First, both Californian food justice organisations, argues that commercial ventures buying and selling cheap “ugly” (e.g. misshapen) produce are undercutting food justice initiatives (such as Phat Beets Produce’s own community-supported agriculture scheme) and reducing the amount of surplus food available to be sent to food banks.
The flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina has drowned millions of chickens and thousands of pigs that were left on farms during the storm. The floodwaters have also caused at least 13 manure storage lagoons to overspill, spreading potentially dangerous bacteria and excess nutrients to the surrounding areas.
The UK government has published its Agriculture Bill, which reforms how farmers will receive subsidies. Under the current system - the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy - the amount of money that farmers receive is linked to the amount of land that they farm. Under the new system, payments will be linked to producing “public goods” such as protecting habitats, reducing flood risk and improving water quality.
Lasers might replace poison or shotguns to stop birds from eating fruit crops, according to some farmers who have used automated laser systems to successfully defend their crops. The systems are also quieter than propane cannons and more reliable than trained falcons. However, it isn’t clear whether the lasers can harm birds’ eyes.
Writing in the Guardian, Isabella Tree of Knepp Castle Estate argues that vegan diets ignore the potential of wildlife-friendly livestock grazing methods. Tree claims that not using anti-worming agents or antibiotics allows cow dung to feed various soil organisms, contributing to soil restoration and wildlife diversity.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the key ingredient in the plant-based burger created by Impossible Foods. Soy leghemoglobin, which releases a protein called heme that gives the burger its red colour and meat-like flavour, is made by Impossible Foods using genetically modified yeast. The FDA’s approval is based on the conclusions drawn by a panel of food safety experts and experimental data submitted by Impossible Foods.