In this file:
· How Will Genetics Feed the World?
· Addressing threats to animal-ag research
· Sourcing GM-free stock feed becoming ‘impossible’
How Will Genetics Feed the World?
Chris Harris, Editor-in-Chief - TheCattleSite
18 January 2013
ANALYSIS - As soon as the phrases "genetic improvement" and "new technology" are used in the same breath, the image that many laymen create is one of monsters and Frankenstein food, writes Chris Harris.
However, are the two really mutually exclusive or can they live together happily?
This year's Oxford Faming Conference brought the questions on genetics, new technology, genetic modification and improvements in agriculture into sharp focus.
At a time when the global population is growing and growing largely in the underdeveloped and developing countries, the need to produce more food, more efficiently is unquestioned.
It is predicted that by 2050 the world's population will need 100 per cent more food and according to the UN FAO 70 per cent of it must come from efficiency enhancing technology.
The FAO also says that by 2050 the world population will grow to 9.1 billion per income capita income will rise by 150 per cent and global consumption of meat milk and eggs will double.
How that increase in production can be met sustainably and economically is the big question taxing scientists, politicians, farmers, processors and consumers alike.
The problems of feeding a growing population have raised the question among some lobby groups over whether there should be any livestock farming at all and whether a vegetarian diet is the most sustainable way forward.
However, not only is the global population growing but it is also growing in wealth and with that growth in wealth comes a desire and need for a more refined diet that includes meat and eggs.
But as this wealthier population demands more animal protein, the agricultural sector must find ways of meeting that demand.
As the Oxford Farming Conference heard this year, genetics has a big role to play in the improvements of yield - whether it is in crops or in animal protein - but genetics are not the sole solution.
The improvements in yields in both crops and milk over the last 50 years have been 50 per cent down to improvements in breeding. The other half of the answer has come down to improved feed and feeding, improved housing and an improved environment and care of both crops and livestock.
Mark Smith, (pictured), the global bovine product development and production director at Genus said that in the last 50 years improvements in pig litters had seen a growth from 14 piglets per sow to around 23 and the improvements in the animal and the conformation while partly coming from genetic selection had also come from improved production management. This had also led to better feed conversion rates, better conformation and more lean meat and less manure, producing less impact on the environment.
The improvements between 1962 and 2009 had seen 71 per cent more pigs, 38 per cent less feed used, 39 per cent more lean meat and 50 per cent less manure produced. The improvements are 60 per cent down to genetic improvement.
In dairy herds genetic improvements in the herd over the last 40 years have contributed to increased milk yields through genetic selection, by looking at more traits than in the past to ensure the production of a dairy cow that is more fertile and more productive.
"We are now looking at selection for production and fitness and we are even looking at the vet costs in production as well," he said.
He said that there is going to be a different environment in agriculture and livestock farming with les land for production, higher in-put and feed costs and challenges from the climate and from water resources.
He said that livestock farming units are going to grow and there is going to be less labour in each unit and there are going to be environmental constraints to produce food sustainably.
"Genetics have contributed approximately 50% of the phenotypic improvement we have seen over the last 50 years and basically, we need to produce more from less and genetic improvement is going to be key to this," he said.
However, there have been vast discrepancies over the last 50 years in the advances in genetic improvement between the different species and sectors. While the dairy herds have seen a 60 to 70 per cent improvement, the pig herds have only seen a 30 to 40 per cent improvement and the beef herds have had negligible genetic improvement.
Similarly in aquaculture, with wild fish stocks declining more than 50 per cent of fish consumed is now farmed but less than 10 per cent comes from genetically improved strains. As fish have a high reproductive rate there is a big potential for improved efficiency.
Mr Smith said that genomic selection is being applied to many species and it will accelerate genetic progress but it still requires a lot of phenotypic data to build and validate evaluations. However it will allow greater selection for lower heritability traits and evolution of new traits.
Mr Smith said that by using new technology gene selection can be speeded up and livestock improvement will come sooner - but often new techniques hit an ethical barrier...
Addressing threats to animal-ag research
John Maday, Managing Editor, Drovers CattleNetwork
Research funding for U.S. animal agriculture has been shrinking and falling behind other countries, but a group of university administrators aim to do something about it. Speaking at the recent International Livestock Congress in Denver this week, Texas A&M Animal Science Department Chairman H. Russell Cross, PhD, framed the issue and described a new lobbying organization; the National Association for Advancement of Animal Science.
Among his previous positions, Dr. Cross served as administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under Presidents Bush and Clinton. In his presentation, he noted a number of worrisome trends.
· Global agriculture will need to nearly double its level of food production over the next 40 years to meet the needs of growing populations, and about 70 percent of that increase will need to come through advancements in technology, since arable land and other resources are limited.
· Sound science has helped the beef industry respond and address problems such as BSE, E. coli O157:H7, drug residues and others. But with more challenges on the horizon, animal science departments might not have the resources to generate data to influence wise policy decisions.
· At most Land Grant universities, the state provides less than 20 percent of the funding for animal science research. In some states the level is less than 10 percent.
· In the private sector, animal-health companies invest 25 to 35 percent of their profits in research and development. Commodity companies invest less than 0.5 percent.
· Animal and plant agriculture contribute comparable value to the U.S. economy, but research funding is weighted toward crops. Animals and the plants they eat contribute about 60 percent of agricultural revenues, but animal research receives 29 percent of federal funding compared with 71 percent for crop research.
· The United States invests about $1.4 billion annually for agricultural research. In contrast, Brazil invests $3 billion and China invests $45 billion.
· Cross notes that his department at Texas A&M is pleased to own a gene-sequencing unit valued at about $1 million. An institution in China, however, has 500 such units in one building.
· Among $262 million in annual USDA competitive grants, only $22 million go to food-animal research.
· Thirty of 31 animal science departments have reduced their beef herds in recent years, and most have downsized their faculty. If the trend continues, we could see a 30 percent reduction in the number of universities housing animal science departments within the next 10 years.
· Cross says he worries about food security, food safety, over-regulation not supported by science and an empty pipeline of animal science students and cutting edge research.
· Until now, there has not been an organization dedicated to lobbying Congress for funding for food-animal research.
In response to these challenges, animal science department heads from 12 Land Grant universities formed the National Association for Advancement of Animal Science. Cross expects the number of university members to grow to 30 within the next month. Associate memberships are available to allied industry.
The group is registered as a 501(c)6 association, meaning they are authorized to lobby Congress. More information on the association is available from Texas A&M University...
article, plus links
Sourcing GM-free stock feed becoming ‘impossible’
By Mike Stones - Food Manufacture (UK)
Genetically modified (GM) animal feed stuffs have become so widespread that it is increasingly difficult to avoid them, Meurig Raymond, NFU deputy president told Food Manufacture’s Business Leaders’ Forum.
Food manufacturers gathered at Food Manufacture's Business Leaders' Forum this week
Food manufacturers gathered at Food Manufacture's Business Leaders' Forum this week
“It is becoming impossible for the livestock industry – the white meat industry, pigs and broiler producers ‒ to source non GM protein on the global market,” Raymond told delegates at the event, organised by Food Manufacture in central London on Tuesday (January 15).
“And, if you can source GM-free feed, it is selling at a £100/t premium over GM. So if we are going to remain in these austere times then it is important that we have the ability to source this product. That the first challenge before we start debating whether we are going to grow GM in the UK.”
GM science will be one of the subjects under discussion at a free hour-long webinar to take place at 11am GMT on Thursday, January 24. More details can be found here and at the end of this article.
The supply of GM-free feed will be become even more difficult from June or July this year, warned Raymond. From this summer, supplies of GM-free feed from Brazil will become even more difficult and expensive to source, reflecting the farmers’ decision to plant GM varieties, he said.
'Embrace biotechnology and GM'
Meanwhile, Raymond praised the outspoken support for GM from Owen Paterson, secretary of state at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). “It was great to hear the secretary of State speak at the Oxford Farming Conference [in early January] on the need to embrace biotechnology and GM."
Raymond added that farmers’ confidence − which had reached an all-time high last May – “had fallen off a cliff” after eight months of bad weather. Raymond added that the weather had affected not just the quality and quantity of the last cereal harvest but delayed – and in some cases prevented – the planting crops due for harvest this summer.
Earlier this month, Premier Foods confirmed that last year’s harvest wash-out would force the firm to drop its pledge to make Hovis bread with exclusively British wheat.
Forum chairman Paul Wilkinson’s summary of the food manufacturing year noted: “GM won support from DEFRA and some converted sceptics and the wheat crop trial [at Rothamsted Research] survived all the protesters.”
Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, admitted to “frustration about the government’s lack of leadership on the really big issues” such as food security.
“The good news is that we have achieved [from government] a level of understanding that food and drink manufacturing is the single sector that has achieved sustained growth,” said Leech.
But she added politicians didn’t seem to know what to do with that understanding.
'Weak organic marketing'
The annual event − sponsored by legal firm Stephenson Harwood, business improvement specialist Acumen and recruitment expert Goldteam − heard that UK organic manufacturers were suffering from “weak marketing” and the nation’s continuing economic woes.
Watch out for more video and text news from the forum next week.
Taking part in the free webinar will be Dr Andrew Wadge, chief scientist with the Food Standards Agency, Sue Davies, chief policy adviser with consumers watchdog Which? and Nicole Patterson, consumer analyst with Leatherhead Food Research.
Each speaker will deliver a 10 minute presentation on a different aspect of food science and technology before taking live questions from those who register to attend the webinar...