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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

14.06.2008
- Food security and agricultural technologies - In defence of pesticides - Energy futures Food security and agricultural technologies As we have said before, the recent realisation that our food supply may not be as secure as we imagined is beginning to focus minds. The sharp rise in food prices is merely a concern to most people in the industrialised world, but a potential disaster for many people in developing countries, unless they are lucky enough to have a surplus of agricultural produce to sell. Of course, hunger and malnutrition are not still prevalent simply because too little...
31.05.2008
- Oil prices, fuel taxes and buying habits - The shape of things to come - Peak water? Oil prices, fuel taxes and buying habits It cannot have escaped anyone's notice that oil prices have surged to record highs over the past few days. Only a few months ago, the $100/barrel milestone was passed, but since then prices have risen by a further 30%. This, of course, has implications for the whole of modern society, which is so dependent on energy, but the first and most obvious effect is the steep rise in the price of petrol and diesel. This is making the UK government think again about the...
24.05.2008
Pesticides and the future of European agriculture There is a major revamp of European pesticides regulation in the pipeline, since the current directive – 91/414 – expires soon and must be replaced. However, the new draft regulation has been significantly amended by the European Parliament, and in its current form represents a significant threat to the already limited range of crop protection products available to farmers. Farmers and the industry have voiced their concerns, and now they are being backed up by scientists in a piece carried on the BBC website ("Effective chemicals may be...
17.05.2008
-Biofuels from waste - The green lobby: a misuse of influence Biofuels from waste Waste, fuel and food together present us with some high priority problems at present. How do we deal with the high levels of waste generated as pressure on landfill gets ever tighter? Do biofuels represent an opportunity (albeit limited) to replace fossil fuels for transport, or do they simply threaten food production? One useful approach is to use the waste to produce fuel, which at the same time eases the pressure on agricultural land for food production. There are a number of companies actively working...
10.05.2008
Are genetic modification and organic farming incompatible? There has been rather a focus on food and agriculture in this newsletter recently, and we continue the trend this week. We make no apologies for this: food supply is once more a headline issue, and recent large commodity price increases have reminded us again of the fragility of civilization. If insufficient food is available, or if it is unaffordable, this of course hits the poorer hardest, but ultimately threatens even rich, sophisticated societies. Food is at the top of the hierarchy of needs, and threats to food security can...
03.05.2008
- Stress-resistant, nitrogen-efficient rice - Farmers defend pesticides - Green labelling Stress-resistant, nitrogen-efficient rice One of the criticisms levelled at agricultural biotechnology is that it is under the control of a few large multinational companies which are trying to dominate the food supply, and that their objective is to maximise profits above all else. Farmers in developing countries, the argument goes, will either forgo the benefits of new technology or (and this now seems to be the fashionable view) have high-priced seeds thrust upon them with no benefit to themselves...
26.04.2008
Ecological footprints The euractiv.com website this week carried an interview with Mathis Wackernagel, director of the Global Footprint Network, which is an organisation "committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth's ecological capacity". Their message is simple and superficially scary: we are using effectively more than the resources of one world, and have to change our ways if we are not to become "ecologically bankrupt". Others have been here before, of course. The theory is that it is possible to measure the...
19.04.2008
Food: the next crisis? Those of us fortunate to be in the developed world take food for granted. It is quality rather than quantity which is our main concern and even with the 24-hour availability of an enormous range of high-quality food – something which would have been almost unthinkable just a generation ago – most people now spend a minor share of their household budget on buying food. Partly, this is because the price of most commodity crops has been low in both relative and absolute terms for quite some time. But, although the recent sharp rises in food costs may make us grumble,...
12.04.2008
Transport of the future Transport is important for virtually everyone. Even if we don't make many journeys ourselves, we rely on efficient delivery of goods (and, particularly, food) and letters and parcels, unlike in the world of Harry Potter, cannot be delivered by friendly owls. Politicians, policymakers and commentators recognise this and pay a lot of attention to the topic, but little seems to be happen which makes any real difference to congestion or ease of travel. Despite the apparent best efforts of all concerned, we seem at best to be running to stand still, as demand grows...
05.04.2008
- "Finches flying free" - European citizens' views of genetic modification - Nuclear new build: clarification   "Finches flying free" The BBC Radio 4 Today programme April Fool's joke related to a supposed plan by the RSPB to capture and "repatriate" to Denmark migratory finches which have been staying in the UK in increasing numbers and out-competing species such as sparrows for food. The first clue that this was a spoof was the name of the trap to be used: the moggie. Confirmation, if any was needed, came when the plan was said to involve flying them on BA from Heathrow Terminal 5,...

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