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Britons want farming on the agenda for COP26 – and want farmers to have access to agricultural innovations to respond to climate crisis

Children should learn how food is grown and produced so that they leave school with an understanding of the health and sustainability implications of farming and the extent to which Britain relies on imports, according to new research. The data also highlights an existing gap in knowledge, with 84% of respondents unaware of the fact that farming is responsible for 25-30% of global emissions. Promisingly, 57% of those surveyed supported making food production a more sustainable process through the use of more innovative farming techniques and methodologies.

Following a summer of droughts, storms, and heat waves, including the hottest temperatures recorded in Europe since records began , YouGov research indicates rising concern about the environment and UK emissions levels. It finds that 86% of Britons want to see improved education around the journey from farm to fork, backing a recent recommendation from Henry Dimbleby in his National Food Strategy , while seven in ten (71%) believe farming and agriculture should be on the table in the COP26 discussions in Glasgow later this autumn. At present it is not one of the main agenda topics.

The research, carried out on behalf of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, shows public enthusiasm for new approaches to farming in light of ongoing environmental challenges, with 81% agreeing farmers should be able to benefit from innovations that could help them play their full role in meeting the UK’s climate change ambition of reaching ‘net zero’ by 2050. Since farmers will also need to produce 70% more food by 2050 to serve the world’s growing population , it is crucial they have every tool available to them to improve food production.

Those surveyed were clear that consumers also have an important role to play in addressing the environmental impact of food and farming. 42% of respondents agreed that there should be greater encouragement of balanced diets which include more sustainable options and 85% agreed we should eat more locally grown produce. A third (33%) also said that providing consumers with a greater choice of food by utilising different production techniques was important. Using a more diverse range of technologies will give consumers greater freedom to choose more nutritious food grown using safe techniques with reduced environmental impact.

Britain relies on imports for 45% of its food supply, a figure that 71% of those surveyed found worrying. The data makes clear the desire for us to do more to shore up farming domestically. 84% of respondents want to see British farmers better supported to grow more food here to reduce our reliance on imports and 81% are keen for agricultural innovations to be used to make the UK more self-sufficient. 75% of respondents agreed that one of the key advantages of embracing innovations in agriculture is the reduction in the UK’s reliance on imports from other countries. But in recognition of increasing food security worries, only a fifth backed focusing on organic farming, with the public focused on making food production a more sustainable process using innovative farming techniques and methodologies. Just 15% of those polled labelled reducing the amount of land needed for farming as a priority.

The findings come ahead of the Government’s response to its consultation on the future regulation of gene editing, which scientists say would enable farmers to produce higher-yield harvests with a lower environmental impact through growing more nutritious and robust crops on smaller areas of land in a changing climate. Promisingly, the Government have also just approved a trial in which scientists will genetically engineer wheat to reduce levels of asparagine, which is considered carcinogenic. Reducing asparagine could produce healthier wheat which could reduce cancer risk to humans. Since 1 in 4 deaths in the UK are attributable to cancer, this could be a significant breakthrough

Mark Buckingham, Chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council said: “Over the last few months British farmers have helped the country through some of its most difficult times, ensuring a safe supply of healthy, good quality and affordable fresh produce. As all of us deal with the impact of climate change and environmental extremes, it is vital that we are equipped to access all the tools available. If UK food production is to remain both resilient and sustainable farmers must have access to technologies like gene editing.

“The role agricultural technology can play in helping reach net zero ambitions and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals cannot be understated, therefore it is important that farming and innovation is on the agenda at COP26. Equally, it is important that consumers are well informed about how food gets from farm to fork and the challenges faced by farmers to be both sustainable and productive.”