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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.
The Trump administration has reversed a ban on using neonicotinoid pesticides (linked to declining bee populations) and genetically modified crops in over 50 national wildlife refuges (out of 560 total). Limited farming activity is permitted in some of the wildlife refuges. Previously, a blanket ban had prohibited the use of neonicotinoids and genetically modified crops in the wildlife refuges, but now decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.
The UK’s Local Government Association (LGA) has called for industry to stop creating non-recyclable food packaging, saying that “Councils have done all they can,” to tackle the issue of plastic recycling. The LGA has found that only one-third of plastic packaging used by households can be recycled.
Farmers in Britain and other European countries have been affected by the ongoing heatwave and dry weather. Oxfordshire farmer Lesley Chandler told the Guardian, “It’s like a tinderbox out here… Just a spark could set it all alight” (read more here). Combine harvesters can create sparks if their blades hit a stone.
An Israeli startup has raised $3 million to create a mechanical system for pollinating plants, as an alternative to relying on bees. Wild bee numbers are declining, while bees used by farmers can suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture hopes to build two separate systems: one to collect and store pollen, and another to autonomously apply the pollen to plants.