The problem of preserving the wild relatives of crop species as a vital gene bank was highlighted in the European Parliament at a special hearing of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee.

The hearing in Brussels was organised by committee member Anthea McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, and featured a key note address by Dr. Nigel Maxted, senior lecturer at Birmingham University and an expert in conservation techniques.

He highlighted the huge value of crop wild relatives (CWRs) as a source of genetic improvement through cross-breeding for traits such as pest-resistance and yield-improvement in existing crop species.

But he said climate change and habitat loss had left wild relatives increasingly under threat - and they were being poorly conserved. Nearly half of the hotspots where valuable CWRs were endangered were in Europe, he said, and although conservation responses had been formulated they were rarely implemented.

Dr Maxted stressed: "If we want to use CWRs in the future we have to conserve them now.

"We need a full programme of diversity conservation, integrated at local, national, international and global level."

Miss McIntyre, whose successful parliamentary report on Agricultural Technology last year highlighted the importance of genetic diversity, said the hearing had exceeded all her expectations.

She said:  "There is a very direct link between food security and bio-diversity.

"I wonder whether the stewardship section of the Common Agricultural Policy should be adapted specifically to encourage the conservativation of CWRs. This seems like a positive way to  incentivise farmers to make a difference."

Other speakers included Susanne Barth, research associate at Trinity College, Dublin, and Nicolas Roux, genetic resources conservationist at Biodiversity International.

News of an agreement between the EU and UK has been welcomed by Anthea McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands.

She said: "These talks have been hard going - but that is the nature of negotiations, especially on something so significant.

"The Prime Minister has persevered and shown the mental toughness to find a way through. I think she has displayed stamina and astuteness - the two qualities you need in talks in Brussels about anything.

"People can be confident in the Theresa May’s promise: 'Whether you voted Leave or Remain, I am determined to deliver an outcome that works in the best interests of everyone across the United Kingdom.'

"Now at last the negotiation can start looking forwards instead of backwards - at the way we work together in future instead of the divorce terms.

"Things won't get any easier, but now we can start talking about building a mutually prosperous future."


Senior MEP Anthea McIntyre has welcomed a last minute reprieve for the much-used weedkiller glyphosate after it was belatedly granted a fresh licence for continued use across the European Union.

The decision to grant the herbicide a licence for a further five years was reached today (Mon) by the EU Commission's  Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, comprising representatives of the 28 member states, after a series of meetings this year failed reach consensus.

The approval comes just a few days before the current licence expires on December 15, which left many farmers fearing a sudden ban with drastic effects.

Miss McIntyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, said: "The scaremongering and indecision over this product had left farmers and growers fearing they were staring over a cliff edge, so this will be greeted with enormous relief."

The popular agent, commonly sold to famers and gardeners under the brand name Roundup, came under suspicion after a World Health Organisation report labelled it a suspected carcinogen; but hundreds of separate, peer-reviewed studies have shown this not to be the case.

Earlier this month, a further independent and long-term study from the National Cancer Institute found no association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Miss McIntyre, member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, said: "It should never have taken this long to renew the licence and it should have been renewed for a full 15 years but the last minute reprieve and the licence for five years is welcome. 

"Many farmers are making a big effort to build up the levels of organic matter in soils by using ground cover crops and “no-till” farming methods, backed up by application of glyphosate. This gives us carbon sequestration, protection from soil erosion and avoidance of water evaporation.

"A de facto ban on glyphosate would have been a shocking and unscientific backward step.

"Farmers would have had to fall back on mechanical weed control. That would mean 25 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and a significant impact on farm bird life - including skylarks, partridge, lapwing. 

"For a zero Improvement in public health and safety, we would have been worsening food security, soil quality, biodiversity and climate change."

British MEP Anthea McIntyre mounted a robust defence of the threatened weedkiller glyphosate when a petition against it was debated in the European Parliament.

Miss Mcintyre, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands and a member of the parliament's Agriculture Committee, said calls for a ban on the herbicide were based on false science and threatened the environment and bio-diversity.

She spoke on Monday when a European Citizens’ Initiative petition (ECI) calling for an EU-wide ban was discussed with the petitioners and the European Commission.

 
The petition - “Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides” -  calls for a ban on the herbicide, a reform of the pesticide approval procedure and EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use.

It has collected over 1 million signatures and ECI representative Mika Leandro argued for a ban because an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) study from 2015 concluded glyphosate was a “probable human carcinogen”.

But Miss McIntyre had a forthright message for the debate, describing the letters she gets from farmer constituents.

She said: "One very typical one says: 'As someone with a scientific training I am appalled how scientific results are being corrupted for political ends with blatant and invalid selection of data to try and establish false arguments for biased organisations. It’s time to take a lead and tell the public and decision makers alike that glyphosate has been safe for forty years and remains safe.' 

"Hundreds of independent, peer-reviewed studies have proved this to be the case. Earlier this month, yet another independent and long-term study from the National Cancer Institute found no association between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"Many farmers are making a big effort to build up the levels of organic matter in soils by using ground cover crops and “no-till” farming methods. This gives us carbon sequestration, protection from soil erosion and avoidance of water evaporation.

"But without glyphosate, farmers will return to mechanical weed control. That would mean 25% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, a significant impact on farm bird life - skylarks, partridge, lapwing. 

"So I really wish that the people that are advocating a complete ban would look much more sensibly at what we really want to achieve which is better soil conservation, better farming methods."

Glyphosate, popular under the brand name Roundup, is facing a de facto ban from next month if an impasse in the Commission's advisory committee is not solved to allow its current licence to be renewed.

The untold story of the millions of Muslims who fought for the Allies in World War One was revealed to members of the West Midlands Together campaign.

The organisations’s steering group, meeting in Birmingham, heard from Hayyan Bhabha, Director of The Muslim Experience in WW1, about his researchers’ discovery of the unknown scale of the contribution Muslims made in the 1914-18 conflict.

He said more than 2.5 million Muslim troops fought for the Allies in the various campaigns.

West Midlands Together was formed as a cross-party campaign for harmony and tolerance in the wake of a spike in hate crime following the EU referendum.

Joint founder Anthea McIntyre MEP, Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, said: “This information is so powerful.

“It shows extent to which we all have shared backgrounds and that we have so much more to bring us together than to keep us apart.”

Mr Bhabba said the project was the first to ask for access to WW1 documents in the Farsi, Arabic, Urdu and Hebrew languages from 377 locations in 19 countries.

He said research had unearthed many fascinating stories about the war service of people from a range of faiths.

He said: “These stories can be a very powerful tool in showing young people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds that this is their country and their families are part of its heritage and history.”

The group has begun organising interfaith trips to the battlefields and war graves of northern France.

Mr Bhabha said the All Party Parliamentary Group of British Muslims, of which he is secretary, will also be working with colleagues to establish consensus in finding a definition of Islamophobia that the Group hopes the Government will adopt.

He said: “We recognise that Brexit has emboldened people to express hatred of anyone they deem to be different from the norm.”

Nasar Iqbal of We Stand United, an initiative against hate crime in Walsall, spoke of his organisation’s work in inviting people to come forward with their experiences.

He said these accounts would be shared via text and video on social media, with viewers asked to comment and add their own stories.

Mr Iqbal also spoke of plans to launch a Hate Crime Network in Walsall to allow a variety of agencies concerned with and affected by hate crime to work more closely together.