UK Environment Secretary to announce funding for ‘sustainable farm-based proteins’ research

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AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Broad beans growing near the Cotswolds

The UK will support the research and development of “sustainable farm-based proteins” like beans, peas and livestock with a new £12.5M funding package, Environment Secretary George Eustice will confirm.

According to a Government statement, Eustice will make the announcement at the Devon County Show this weekend and explain how the money will improve farmers’ businesses.

The money is being made available through a partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to allow farmers, businesses, growers, and academics to collaborate on projects that will work “to improve the efficiency and sustainability of farm-based protein production”.

In practice, producing more sustainable proteins could include “the development of new methane reducing feeds and supplements, or the breeding of new sustainable and resilient crops and livestock”.

Eustice plans to discuss an example of technology created by Bennamann in Truro, Cornwall at this weekend’s event. The company has developed a system that allows methane to be captured from slurry stores and repurposed into biomethane, allowing farmers to have “an additional income stream”.

Bennamann is currently working alongside the local authority in Cornwall and six of its farms to transform methane waste into biomethane, which can be used as fuel for lorries and tractors, to heat households and businesses, charge vehicles, and even supply hot water.

The Environment Secretary said in a statement: “Improving farm profitability and tackling environmental challenges requires us to allow the natural cycle of life to operate fully. Rather than seeing farm wastes like slurry as a problem and a cost, we need to start recognising that they are actually a resource that could be monetised to boost farm incomes.

“Cornwall has a long history of pioneering new technology and it is at the forefront of new approaches that could revolutionise the way we manage farm yard manure to create a new income stream for farmers and generate a green fuel that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

The funding for sustainable proteins is a part of the £270 million that the Government has earmarked for the Farming Innovation Programme – a research initiative which will run until 2029.

The Farming Innovation Programme was a commitment laid out in the controversial Food Strategy published last month. Criticised by many, the most common concern was that the measures included in the plan do not go far enough to have any positive impact on the fight against the climate crisis.

Clare Oxborrow, Senior Sustainability Analyst at Friends of the Earth said: “If we’re to meet our climate goals, we need to see a dramatic reduction in the amount eaten. This is still possible, but the Government must support nature-friendly farming alongside a mantra of eating less, but better quality meat and dairy.”

The Climate Change Committee also believe the strategy will hardly tackle growing emissions levels coming from agriculture in the UK. The Committee’s Chairman, Lord Deben said: “A wholesale rethink of how we use land in this country is needed to drive down emissions. That includes eating slightly less but better meat and dairy; widespread tree planting to soak up carbon dioxide emissions; and peatland restoration, alongside new approaches to farming.

“Instead, this Strategy fails to address these issues and relies almost entirely on innovation and technology to drive forward low-carbon agriculture and productivity improvements, many of which are untested and unproven. This is an opportunity wasted.”

In a recent interview with Food Matters Live, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Dr Lawrence Haddad also expressed his worry about the Government’s approach saying it “is not a strategy and is not a serious document. It is more than a disappointment, frankly, and I say this as a UK citizen, it is embarrassing.”

The UK food system is facing chronic labour shortages at the minute. Find out what needs to be done to tackle the issue in this Food Matters Live Podcast episode:

How can the UK food sector solve its labour shortage?

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