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Prof Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “The Royal Society’s report brings welcome and renewed focus on the need for science to underpin the delivery of safe, nutritious and affordable food for everyone, in an increasingly unpredictable world.

BBSRC is currently leading the development of a cross-Council programme in food security for Research Councils UK. This aims to provide multidisciplinary research to meet the food security challenges in crop production, livestock farming, diet and health and the societal aspects surrounding food and sustainability of the food-chain. The programme is being developed in partnership with bodies across UK Government, including Defra, DFID, Food Standards Agency, Technology Strategy Board and the Scottish Government.

We will be considering the recommendations of the Royal Society report as we develop our food security research roadmap, which will outline how the emerging RCUK programme aims to deliver research to underpin food security.”

JIC welcomes Royal Society report into food security

21st October 2009

The John Innes Centre welcomes the Royal Society report, “Reaping the benefits: science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture” which has carefully analysed the issues relating to securing future global food supplies.

The report identifies a crucial role for plant science in developing new crops that are able to adapt to climate change, that have increased yields from reduced inputs such as water and fertilizers, that resist pests and diseases without the use of chemicals, and have improved nutritional qualities. The UK has a world leading science base for achieving these important objectives; furthermore the UK has key international links that facilitate the transfer of new crops and knowledge to where they are needed the most.

The John Innes Centre in Norwich has made important contributions to crop improvement in the past and is poised to make important contributions to food security. For example we are pioneering new approaches to breeding the next generations of wheat crops using a wide range of natural genetic variation. These new wheat lines will have improved disease tolerance and will have increased yields in adverse climates.

The John Innes recognises that no single technological solution can solve the complex problem of food security, and is working with climate scientists, agronomists and economists to ensure their science can help eradicate world hunger.
Prof Mike Bevan, Acting Director, John Innes Centre

On Food Security and Genetic Modification:
The JIC is pragmatic about GM technology. We use it as a valuable tool that is helping us understand how crop plants adapt to their environment, what determines yield, to improve the nutritional content and health promoting qualities of plants, to develop knowledge related to advanced breeding, and to exploit biodiversity for crop improvement. This knowledge can then be used to improve crop plants.

In order to achieve these improvements in crops, a range of technologies will be necessary. Genetic modification will be one of these technologies.  In some cases GM will be the only technology that is able to provide the solution to a particular crop improvement requirement.  For this reason it is vital that we do not turn our back on this technology and that we continue with the research necessary to make sure that it is employed in the best way taking into consideration the benefits and risks of each particular application.
Dr Wendy Harwood

On  food security and nutrition:
The Royal Society has taken a vital step in highlighting the global issue of food security and the contribution that UK science, particularly plant science, can make to addressing this immense challenge. It is important to remember that the definition of 'food security' includes adequate nutrition for healthy lives of all people, not just adequate yields of nutritionally poor foods.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, (FAO) defines food security as existing  “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

This means that food security is an issue for all countries, both developed and developing, and UK science can make a major contribution not just to developing countries but also to benefit our own society, especially in improving the nutritional content of foods to protect people against chronic disease. A range of different state-of-the art technologies are available to meet the challenge, most important of which are modern breeding techniques. However, for key crops, there may not be adequate natural variation available to offer real advantages, particularly in terms of nutritional benefits. In such cases, improved crops could be produced using genetic engineering, and could offer much greater nutritional advantages and be generated more rapidly than by conventional breeding methods. GM offers potential for rapid and effective crop improvements in specific crops, within the context of consumer choice.

To turn the discussion initiated by the Royal Society’s report on the means to ensure global food security into an issue of the acceptability/non-acceptability of GM crops is irresponsible, and could endanger this initiative which is vital for the heath, well-being and quality of life of future generations all over the world.
Prof Cathie Martin

On Food Security and reducing inputs:
We currently depend on chemical fertilisers to maintain the crop yields needed to feed the world’s population. This results in extensive fossil fuel consumption and the release of pollutants into our atmosphere and water systems.  Legumes do not need chemical fertilisers because they benefit from an interaction with nitrogen fixing bacteria. Through an understanding of this process we will be in a position to engineer cereal crops to make their own fertiliser, avoiding the environmental damage currently caused by chemical fertilisers.
Dr Giles Oldroyd

 

The members of the working group involved in producing the report included Professor Jonathan Jones FRS, Senior Scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory, and the late Professor Mike Gale FRS, John Innes Foundation Emeritus Fellow and former director of the John Innes Centre.