February 14, 2013
Put Science back at the Heart of Farming
The UK must play its full part in rising to the increasingly critical world food challenge by putting applied agricultural research back at the heart of national improvement efforts. At the same time, it needs to ensure farmers across the country have the up-to-date information, economic incentive and political support they need to put the most appropriate science and technology into practice at every opportunity.
This was the essential recipe for the future strongly advocated by the Agrii conference’s keynote speaker, the Right Honourable Sir Jim Paice MP. Widely recognised as the best Minister of State for Agriculture & Food that Defra has ever had, he was typically forthright in his assessment of current needs.
“We are well-placed to help meet the huge global food challenge and need to play our full part in doing so,” he stressed. “It’s nonsense to think we can rely on organic farming. It simply can’t produce the volume of food needed. And depending more and more on importing food that can be produced at home means putting even more competitive pressure on world markets and countries that can least afford it.
“Instead, we need to embrace applied research and development in a very much more positive way and do everything we can to increase our own agricultural productivity.
“Thankfully, Government seems to be accepting that it pulled back too far from agricultural R&D in the ‘Eighties and we can be hopeful of some rebalancing; not least through the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS).
“Very welcome too will be the greater national support I have every hope we shall be seeing for knowledge transfer. Especially so if we can achieve the best possible integration between public sector activities and the contribution of committed industry leaders like Agrii.”
Alongside this Jim Paice is adamant our whole industry must also be very much more robust than it has been in breaking down the culture of resistance to science amongst some sections of the public. While he accepts that GM may not be ‘the be all and end all’, he sees it and other leading-edge scientific developments as vital to the future.
“Genetic modification has become a totem of resistance to science,” he pointed out. “Yet the technology has been successfully applied widely in the USA and other parts of the world over many years with absolutely no health problems. And even some of most prominent anti-GM campaigners are now publicly accepting the error of their ways.
“As a society, it’s high time we moved on, brushing aside both the doom mongers that have always resisted any development and those who simply don’t want it in their back yards.
“Yes, we need to maintain the highest possible standards of animal welfare and environmental responsibility. We must also be prepared to learn from the mistakes that inevitably occur with any progress.
“However, we can no long afford to let ill-informed objections stand in the way of what urgently needs to be done. We must all be far more robust in championing the way ahead, making politicians and the public understand that this is about our food. The challenge we face is far too important to let lesser considerations prevent us meeting it.”