Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Prof. Nigel Maxted (University of Birmingham) and Julian Hosking (Member of UK PGR Group and former member of UK FAnGR Committee) (AB48)


Maintaining UK agricultural production is dependent on the continued availability of genetic diversity for use in crop and livestock improvement. The UK has a wealth of livestock breed, crop and crop wild relative genetic diversity but that is increasingly threatened by the abandonment of traditional breeds and crop varieties and changes in environmental management that disadvantage crop wild relative maintenance. Some breed, crop and crop wild relative populations are actively conserved but the full breadth of UK animal and plant genetic resources are not actively conserved. We have no record of which populations or what proportions of populations are currently actively conserved to maintain genetic diversity. Within the developed world this makes the UK unusual, as most developed, and even developing countries, have or are developing a National Genetic Resource Conservation Strategy to improve the efficiency of their genetic resource interventions and ensure access to genetic diversity is not limiting crop and breed improvement. The Agriculture Bill offers an opportunity to significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of UK animal and plant genetic resources conservation and sustainable use, as such the UK genetic resource community supports Clause 1, Subsection 1, Paragraphs (c), (f), (g), (h) and (i). In addition, we would support the development of a comprehensive UK Genetic Resources Conservation Strategy.

Executive summary

· The UK animal and plant genetic resource community supports Clause 1, Subsection 1, Paragraphs (c), (f), (g), (h) and (i).

· Further we would support the development of a UK Genetic Resource Conservation Strategy.

Comments on the Bill

1. We fully support for Clause 1, Subsection 1, Paragraphs (c), (f), (g), (h) and (i). These elements are all essential to enable significant actions to be implemented to deliver practical conservation of our nation’s Natural Capital in the form of the UK’s domesticated crop and animal varieties and breeds, and their associated wild species, referred to as plant and animal genetic resources. These resources are held by maintainers but are largely not systematically conserved in situ / on-farm or ex situ (e.g. cryopreserved or cold stored in gene banks), but are constantly eroded or extinguished by site managers changing management interventions and maintainers halting cultivation and non-actively conserved genetic diversity is lost. In particular, England urgently needs a joined-up approach to establishing a National Genetic Resource Conservation Strategy for the comprehensive long-term in situ and ex situ conservation of our national genetic resources diversity through effective co-ordination and integration of all the relevant activities, facilities and funding.

2. We also support the following proposed amendments:

· Amendment 1 - This amendment is vital to encourage the Secretary of State to provide meaningful financial assistance for the purposes listed in Clause 1 as an imperative requirement rather than as an option to provide funding that may not actually be exercised.

· Amendment 2 - This amendment would helpfully add to the purposes for which financial assistance can be given by ensuring access to healthy food produced sustainably including through whole farm agroecological systems. Many of our most indigenous cultivatable plants and farmed animals are best suited to sustainable agroecological systems as opposed to intensive commodified production models.

· Amendment 3 - This amendment substantially improves the definition of "environmentally sustainable way" for the purposes of clause 1(4) and Amendment 2: ""environmentally sustainable way" means in a way which employs factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis and avoids the depletion of natural resources"

· Amendment 7 – This amendment beneficially requires the Secretary of State to make an annual (instead of every five years as proposed in the draft Bill) report to Parliament containing an analysis of statistical data relating to food security in the United Kingdom. However, in addition to supporting this amendment, we wish to suggest that the Secretary of State’s annual report should also include detailed statistics on the biodiversity (genetic resources diversity) in cultivatable plants (including crop wild relatives and forest trees) and farmed animals – as this is needs to be explicitly recognised as a key component of our national food security.

· New Clause 2 – This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report annually on the financial assistance given or allocated to each of the purposes of the Bill, on its sufficiency to meet policy objectives and on the Secretary of State’s intentions if in their opinion funding for any purpose was not sufficient. This is very important to hopefully engender rapid, continuous and substantial progress with the delivery of the policy objectives of the Bill.

Key understandings

3. These include:

a. The UK’s Natural Capital includes the full breadth of the UK ecosystems and all UK biodiversity at habitat, species and genetic levels;

b. UK Natural Capital and biodiversity includes all UK genetic resources diversity, but particularly of domesticated species and their wild relative (as established by virtue of UK membership of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) since 1992, the current Aichi Biodiversity Targets (especially Target 13), and the CBD thematic programmes on Agricultural and Forest Biodiversity);

c. UK Natural Capital assets include all UK plant/crop, animal, forest/tree, aquatic, micro-organism and invertebrate genetic resources diversity (e.g. in the wild, on managed nature reserves, cultivated and otherwise farmed, in living gene banks and in cryopreserved or other cold storage gene banks);

d. UK genetic resources diversity provides essential ecosystem services that promote human well-being (e.g. food, energy, timber, medicines, pollination, carbon sequestration, other renewable materials, etc.);

e. UK genetic resources diversity exists, and needs to be sustainably conserved, both in situ (e.g. protected area and on-farms) and ex situ (e.g. in gene banks) and it can be quantified;

f. Qualitative, condition and spatial distribution assessments of UK genetic resources diversity can be carried out;

g. The comprehensive and resilient conservation of UK genetic resources diversity is presently incomplete, at risk, and yet capable of substantial enhancement.

4. "Favourable Conservation Status" is required for all recognised domesticated taxa and their wild relatives:

‘The conservation status of a taxon* (*including other recognised species, sub-species, varieties and landraces)  means the sum of the conserved genetic resource using both in situ and ex situ techniques and, by implication, its comparison to the entirety of the genetic resource diversity that exists in the wild or on-farm or in a managed reserve.’

5. ‘The conservation status of taxon will be taken as 'favourable' when:

a. In terms of genetic diversity, 95% [most] of all the alleles at a random locus occurring in the target population with a frequency greater than 0.05 [not very rare] are actively conserved; and

b. In terms of ex situ conservation, 100 viable seeds from 20 independent populations are actively conserved in gene banks (or other collections) from throughout the taxon’s range; and

c. In terms of in situ conservation, 6 geographically discrete populations throughout the taxon’s range are being actively conserved in the wild, in a managed reserve or on-farm.’

6. Examples of Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) for a taxon might include:

a. There are at least 10 widely geographically-distributed [within the UK] separate competent keepers of genetically diverse sustainable purebred populations of the taxon in situ; and

b. There are at least 20 viable population samples [with a minimum of 100 viable seeds in each sample] from widely geographically-distributed genetically diverse sustainable purebred populations of the taxon [mainly within the UK] held in ex situ collections that are sustainably maintained and regularly reviewed to constantly retain a comprehensive representation of the full genetic diversity of the taxon.

Endangerment categories, criteria, thresholds and tapers

7. Abundance/scarcity (e.g. Minimum independently viable interbreeding population sizes (e.g. 5k for plants), numbers of unrelated registered pedigree breeding females and males, % cross-breeding, germplasm/seeds in long-term genebanks, etc.)

8. Diminishing genetic diversity/variation (e.g. falling effective population size, relatedness/kinship, hybridisation risks, inbreeding, introgression, proximity/separation distances for plants, pollination requirements, etc.)

9. Geographic concentration and locational density

10. Breed/population structure (e.g. ages, gender ratios, single trait selection pressure, cloning, ‘genetic health’, etc.)

11. Keepers/Breeders/Maintainers demographics and changes of same

12. Excessive exportation and/or importation

13. Commercial and other economic factors

14. Climate change resilience

15. Land use changes (e.g. from farmland/woodland to built development)

16. Pests and diseases (e.g. particular susceptibility to certain endemic diseases)

17. Tolerance and resistance (e.g. to parasites, diseases, drought, salinity, heat/cold, low soil fertility, wet environments, exposure, etc.)

18. Changes in viable uses, available markets and ‘fashions’

19. Conflict with protected wild species (e.g. bears, lynx, wolves, etc.)

Mitigation and improvement measures to address causes of ‘at risk’ status

20. Fill in gaps in collections and/or establish new collections

21. Multiplication

22. Pollination services (e.g. bees and other pollinators)

23. Dispersal

24. Local ‘self-sufficient’ sustainability (including ‘closed systems’ suitability)

25. Regular updating of collections (both in situ & ex situ)

26. Annual and capital grant support payments for maintenance, improvement and dispersal of collections (e.g. through AES/ELMS, RDPs, etc.)

27. Education and training

28. Enhanced traceability, authenticity and provenance for distinctive quality products (e.g. through PFNs, Trademarks, Domain names, IPR, assurance schemes, etc.)

29. Taxation reliefs, exemptions, allowances, etc. (e.g. VAT, IhT, IT, Herd basis, SITR, Gift Aid, CGT, CT, Business Rates, etc.)

30. Inclusion in Conservation Covenants, NNRs, other local and private nature/wildlife reserves, SSSIs, Botanic Gardens, NT properties, Parks & Gardens, etc.

31. Research to provide more efficient techniques for the effective conservation of GRD (both in situ & ex situ) (e.g. long term conservation storage at room temperature, SPARKS, long term conservation storage of viable DNA, genotypic & phenotypic characterisation, genomic IDs, etc.)

32. Find new sustainable uses for the GR contained in conserved plants and animals (e.g. medicines, pharmaceuticals, healthy foods & drinks, materials, renewable energy generation, additional ecosystem services, education, etc.)

Relevant National and International Policies

· CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020: ‘Aichi’ Biodiversity Target 13: "By 2020, the genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and of wild relatives, including other socio-economically as well as culturally valuable species, is maintained, and strategies have been developed and implemented for minimizing genetic erosion and safeguarding their genetic diversity."

· The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

· Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

· European Strategy for Plant Conservation

· Biodiversity 2020: A Strategy for England’s Wildlife and Ecosystem Services (Defra, 2011): Priority action: "Ensure that ‘agricultural’ genetic diversity is conserved and enhanced wherever appropriate."

· UK Country Report on Farm Animal Genetic Resources 2012 (Defra, 2013)

· UN Sustainable Development Goals 2015: Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) – Target 2.5 "By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed."

· State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture (UN FAO, Feb 2019): "Biodiversity at genetic, species and ecosystem levels helps address the challenges posed by diverse and changing environmental conditions and socio-economic circumstances. Diversifying production systems, for example by using multiple species, breeds or varieties, integrating the use of crop, livestock, forest and aquatic biodiversity, or promoting habitat diversity in the local landscape or seascape, helps to promote resilience, improve livelihoods and support food security and nutrition."

February 2020


Prepared 27th February 2020