‘Washout winter’ spells price rises for UK shoppers with key crops down by a fifth | Food

UK harvests of important crops could be down by nearly a fifth this year due to the unprecedented wet weather farmers have faced, increasing the likelihood that the prices of bread, beer and biscuits will rise.

Analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) has estimated that the amount of wheat, barley, oats and oilseed rape could drop by 4m tonnes this year, a reduction of 17.5% compared with 2023.

The warnings come as farmers have borne the brunt of the heavy rainfall and bad weather experienced over the winter, with the UK experiencing 11 named storms since September.

In England, there was 1,695.9mm of rainfall between October 2022 and March 2024, the wettest 18-month period since records began in 1836.

This has resulted in planted crops either being flooded or damaged by the wet weather, or farmers not being able to establish crops at all.

A flooded field of brussels sprouts at TH Clements and Son Ltd near Boston, Lincolnshire. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Tom Lancaster, a land analyst at ECIU, said: “This washout winter is playing havoc with farmers’ fields leading to soils so waterlogged they cannot be planted or too wet for tractors to apply fertilisers.

“This is likely to mean not only a financial hit for farmers, but higher imports as we look to plug the gap left by a shortfall in UK supply. There’s also a real risk that the price of bread, beer and biscuits could increase as the poor harvest may lead to higher costs.

“To withstand the wetter winters that will come from climate change, farmers need more support. The government’s green farming schemes are vital to this, helping farmers to invest in their soils to allow them to recover faster from both floods and droughts.”

The ECIU analysed data from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) from March, which looked at the amount of land set aside for crops, but also Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) data looking at crop yields in 2020, the next wettest year in recent times.

It estimated that all wheat produced would decline by 26.5% compared with 2023, while winter barley would drop by 33.1% and oilseed rape would reduce by 37.6%.

According to the ECIU, production of spring barley and spring oats will increase by 27% and 23% compared with last year, with farmers giving more area to spring crops due to the difficulties around planting and growing winter crops.

Earlier this month, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) called for more help to protect farmers from flooding, saying it was undermining the country’s food production and food security.

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The NFU vice-president, Rachel Hallos, also said this month: “People should be in no doubt about the immense pressure UK farm businesses are under thanks to this unprecedented and constant rain.

“It’s no exaggeration to say a crisis is building. While farmers are bearing the brunt of it now, consumers may well see the effects through the year as produce simply doesn’t leave the farm gate.”

Some farms in places including Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire were badly affected by persistent rain since October, meaning they have not been able to plant any crops, while the wet weather has significantly depleted the amount other farms have been able to plant.

Colin Chappell, an arable farmer from Lincolnshire and member of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said the wet weather had had a massive impact, with virtually no crops being successfully drilled this winter. He said: “While it’s now dry enough to plant some fields, some of them are so bad I don’t think they’ll get drilled this year.”

Last week, the head of Associated British Foods – one of the UK’s biggest bread makers, which owns Kingsmill and Ryvita – warned of potentially higher prices if the rise in cost of domestic grains is not offset by larger harvests abroad.

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PFAS increase likelihood of death by cardiovascular disease, study shows | PFAS

For the first time, researchers have formally shown that exposure to toxic PFAS increases the likelihood of death by cardiovascular disease, adding a new level of concern to the controversial chemicals’ wide use.

The findings are especially significant because proving an association with death by chemical exposure is difficult, but researchers were able to establish it by reviewing death records from northern Italy’s Veneto region, where many residents for decades drank water highly contaminated with PFAS, also called “forever chemicals”.

Records further showed an increased likelihood of death from several cancers, but stopped short of establishing a formal association because of other factors.

“This is the first time that anyone has found strong evidence of an association of PFAS exposure and cardiovascular mortality,” said Annibale Biggeri, the peer-reviewed study’s lead author, and a researcher with the University of Padua.

PFAS are a class of 15,000 chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. Though the compounds are highly effective, previous research has linked them to cancer, kidney disease, birth defects, decreased immunity, liver problems and a range of other serious diseases.

Veneto’s drinking water was widely contaminated by a PFAS-production plant between 1985 and 2018. Researchers first found an excess of about 4,000 deaths during this period, or nearly three every month.

Part of the region was supplied with water from a different source, giving researchers the opportunity to compare records for tens of thousands of people who drank contaminated water and lived near those who did not.

Though PFAS can affect the cardiovascular system in different ways, it is largely a problem because it produces stubbornly high and dangerous levels of cholesterol. The levels are difficult to control because they aren’t caused by dietary or lifestyle choices that can be addressed with adjustments, but hormonal changes that impact the metabolism and the body’s ability to control plaque in arteries.

The study’s authors suspect that post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the environmental disaster, which upended lives across the region, may also be contributing to circulatory disease.

The evidence of a jump in kidney cancer was also “very clear”, Biggeri said. In the study’s first five years, 16 cases were recorded, while 65 were recorded in the last five years. It also found elevated levels of testicular cancer during some time periods.

The records “showed clearly” that earlier life exposures led to higher levels of mortality, except for women who have multiple children. Previous research has found levels were higher in women with only one child.

The chemicals accumulate in placentas and are passed onto children during pregnancy, which reduces levels in the body. Mortality levels among women who were of child-bearing age were generally lower, but increased in older women.

The chemicals will be passed down to children for generations, said Laura Facciolo, a Veneto resident who drank contaminated water. She said the findings underscore the need to ban PFAS, and the disaster’s injustice.

“I found myself in a big giant trial where no one gave any consent, just like mice,” she said. “I have no words for this.”

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Countries consider pact to reduce plastic production by 40% in 15 years | Plastics

Countries are for the first time considering restrictions on the global production of plastic – to reduce it by 40% in 15 years – in an attempt to protect human health and the environment.

As the world attempts to make a treaty to cut plastic waste at UN talks in Ottawa, Canada, two countries have put forward the first concrete proposal to limit production to reduce its harmful effects including the huge carbon emissions from producing it.

The motion submitted by Rwanda and Peru sets out a global reduction target, ambitiously termed a “north star”, to cut the production of primary plastic polymers across the world by 40% by 2040, from a 2025 baseline.

It says: “The effectiveness of both supply and demand-side measures will be assessed, in whole or in part, on their success in reducing the production of primary plastic polymers to sustainable levels.”

The proposal calls for the consideration of mandatory reporting by countries of statistical data on production, imports and exports of primary plastic polymers.

A global plastic reduction target would be similar to the legally binding Paris agreement to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5C above preindustrial levels, Rwanda and Peru said.

“The target should align with our objectives for a safe circular economy for plastics by closing the circularity gap between production and consumption,” the countries said.

“It should also align with our objective in the Paris agreement to limit warming to 1.5C. To this end, one such global reduction target could be a 40% reduction by 2040 against a 2025 baseline.”

Global plastic production soared from 2m tonnes in 1950 to 348m tonnes in 2017. The plastic production industry is expected to double in capacity by 2040.

About 11m tonnes of plastic leaches into the ocean each year, and by 2040 the scale of this marine plastic waste pollution is likely to triple.

Plastic production is a significant driver of climate breakdown, as most plastic is made from fossil fuels. A study by scientists at the US-based Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has estimated that by 2050 plastic production could account for 21-31% of the world’s carbon emission budget required to limit global heating to 1.5C.

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A 2021 analysis by Beyond Plastics found that the US plastics industry will be a bigger contributor to the climate crisis than coal-fired power in the country by 2030.

Countries agreed at UN talks in 2022 in Nairobi, Kenya, that a treaty to cut plastic waste must address the full life cycle of plastic. They promised to forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024.

The Ottawa talks, which are due to finish on Monday, aim to get 175 countries to agree the draft text of the treaty.

Graham Forbes, the global plastic projects leader at Greenpeace USA, who was at the Ottawa talks, said: “This is not an ambitious enough target for Greenpeace but it is an important first step to an agreement to limit global plastic production. You cannot solve the pollution crisis unless you constrain, reduce and restrict plastic production.”

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‘Water everywhere’: Shropshire farmers race to salvage harvest after record rain | Farming

With his farm almost entirely surrounded by the banks of the River Severn in north Shropshire, Ed Tate is used to flooding on his land – but this year, the sheer level of rainfall is the worst he has ever seen.

He points to a field where about 20% of wheat crops have failed as they have been covered with rainwater that has pooled in muddy puddles, in areas that would usually be a sea of green by now.

Over the hill, he struggles to drive his off-road vehicle through boggy fields saturated with water while the rain continues to fall around him.

“I think in living memory this is the worst winter we’ve had, just because of the duration of wet weather we’ve seen, and we’ve got a lot of failing crops,” said Tate, who has been running his 800-acre mixed arable and livestock farm just outside Shrewsbury for about 20 years.

“We’re losing tens of thousands of pounds and there’s just no support. It does mean we’re going to have to look at redundancies on the farm, unfortunately. With some crops we might break even. But for other farms, this could tip them over the edge.”

Met Office data shows that from October 2022 to March 2024, England was hit by the highest amount of rain for any 18-month period since records began in 1836.

Some farm crops have been completely wiped out, while many others have drastically reduced yields. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has predicted this year’s wheat yields will be down 15%, winter barley down 22% and oilseed rape down 28%, the biggest drop since the 1980s.

Farmer Rory Lay standing in a wet field on his north Shropshire farm where wheat crops have failed due to heavy rainfall. Photograph: Jessica Murray/The Guardian

“I don’t want to work out the numbers really. We’ve lost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds off our income,” said Rory Lay, who works on his family’s 1,200-acre arable, beef and sheep farm north of Shrewsbury.

“It has been relentless this winter, my waterproofs are worn out. It’s never nice, just trudging around in the rain – that mental aspect has been pretty hard on people this year and it’s still really, really wet.

“My dad is at retirement age, and even he doesn’t remember having this much crop loss, bare fields and just water everywhere.”

Like many farmers, Lay has been checking the weather forecast constantly, desperately hoping for a letup in the wet conditions. “It has even got to the silly point where you’re all comparing weather apps and looking for the slightest difference to give you some hope,” he said.

Last week the government opened a farming recovery fund scheme to help farmers recuperate from the effects of flooding from Storm Henk in January. But many areas, including low-lying north Shropshire, which is particularly vulnerable to wet weather, were not covered as they were not one of the worst-affected areas in that storm.

Most of the crops Lay planted in autumn have rotted in the wet conditions, and he has been desperately trying to replant so he can salvage his harvest. But the sodden soil is still too compacted to drill, leaving messy tracks in the fields where he has attempted to plant before giving up.

“I’m doing more of a mess trying to alleviate the problem because it’s still too wet. I’m trying to have that patience but we’re against that ticking clock,” he said.

“I’ve got some fields where the whole crop has gone, and my yield is dropping every single day. Another week and there will probably be no point. It’ll cost as much to plant it and harvest it as what we get off it. We are looking at a very tough 18 months ahead of us where we are going to have very low returns, because we literally just have very little to sell.”

The Lib Dem MP for North Shropshire, Helen Morgan, said the impact of rain had been devastating across the industry.

“You can probably afford to have a poor winter drill crop, but you can’t afford to have a poor summer one as well. Farmers are struggling,” she said. “If we don’t get a bit of luck in the next couple of weeks or so, we’re going to get a really, really difficult harvest.”

She said longer-term government support to help farmers combat heavy rainfall and flooding was essential, including incentives to support farmers who allow their fields to flood in order to prevent flooding farther downstream.

But in the absence of financial help, most farms are in a race against time to plant in time for the summer harvest. Over at Lynn South farm, in the east of the county, all hands are on deck to get potatoes in the ground as the soil slowly dries out.

The farm’s income comes from its arable planting – potatoes and wheat – as well as its flower fields which are harvested for wedding confetti and opened up to the public in summer for events.

“Everything is late – the potatoes are late, the wheat is late and the flowers are late to go in. If we can’t get planted in the next week or two weeks, it’s not going to work,” said Ashley Evers-Swindell, who helps run the farm’s flower business, Shropshire Petals. “To say it’s been stressful is an understatement.

“Our loss of yield right now could be between 10 and 15%, and we’ve already lost about £80,000 from our potatoes just because we’re planting late. In every field, there’s probably about an acre of waterlogged ground that we’ll lose.”

Kate Mayne, who runs the local National Farmers’ Union farmers group, said people had been spreading fields at her family farm outside Shrewsbury at 2am when a clear weather window finally appeared.

“There’s a huge backup of work at the moment, so when you can get out and do it, you have to go for it,” she said. “The rain has just been absolutely mind blowing, we haven’t had any rest from it, and the implications are massive.

“It’s pretty horrendous for a lot of farmers out there.”

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Country diary: A fine coastline with secrets in the soil | Coastlines

The remains of last year’s thrift seem to rattle as an offshore wind pushes over the headland. It won’t be long before they’re superseded by the new flowers, and already, buds of tightly curled pink are beginning to unfurl to greet the spring sunshine. A local folktale says that every thrift flower represents the soul of someone lost at sea, resettled on the coast to remind all seafarers of the perilous ocean they sail. They will be in good company on Trevone’s coast, mingling with clusters of scurvy grass, kidney vetch, and bursts of lesser celandine.

But the wildflowers belie a darker secret. In 2022, a human skeleton was discovered on this coast path, hidden beneath the earth for centuries until the soil covering it wore away, revealing a snapshot of our past. Archaeological evidence tells us that it probably belonged to an 18th-century sailor – the upper body showing signs of heavy manual labour and wear to the teeth consistent with regularly holding rope in the mouth.

In a sense, the skeleton isn’t alone. There are suspected to be many secreted on our shores. Prior to the 19th century, bodies washed ashore were prohibited from being buried in consecrated ground as it wasn’t known whether the person was Christian, so they were unceremoniously interred on the coast, placed in makeshift graves, often with no coffin, shroud or headstone. This changed in 1808, when the Grylls Act was passed, allowing all to be given rites and laid to rest in churchyards, a calmer eternal resting place than this exposed headland.

On the rocks below, herring gulls huddle against the wind. Some once believed that gulls, like albatrosses, carried the spirits of drowned sailors searching for the “promised land” – another fairytale for lost souls. One of the gulls takes flight, soaring over the cliff top that once cradled the unknown mariner. The coastline is unpredictable; climate change means cliff collapses, and further erosion may to lead to more bones being unearthed as the ground shifts and our history is laid bare. But today, while the waves susurrate against the rocks and a skylark ascends melodically over a nearby field, the land quietly keeps its secrets, right beneath our feet.

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Weather tracker: US experts predict one of most active hurricane seasons on record | Hurricanes

Last week, the US National Hurricane Center issued its first advisory of the year, more than a month before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from 1 June to 30 November. An area of low pressure was identified on Wednesday 24 April in the east-central Atlantic Ocean, about 900 miles to the north-west of Cape Verde.

The low quickly dispersed as it moved into an area of stronger upper level winds. But although this disturbance did not cause any impacts, it is perhaps a sign of what forecasters are predicting will be one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Earlier in April, the Colorado State University issued its Atlantic hurricane forecast, with a prediction of 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes and five major hurricanes. For comparison, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average hurricane season between 1991 and 2020 comprised roughly 14 tropical storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The above-average season being forecast has been attributed partly to the very high sea surface temperatures (SST) currently in the Atlantic. SSTs in the main tropical storm development region were recorded at 1.2C above normal in February, a new record high for the month, thus providing plenty of fuel for any potential storm to develop. Additionally, forecasters are predicting a weakening of El Niño through the season, reducing wind shear which enhances the formation of a hurricane. A high wind shear can prevent a storm from intensifying by displacing heat and moisture from the centre and limiting the vertical accent of air parcels.

Meanwhile, south-east Europe, particularly Greece, was engulfed by a severe dust storm last week, originating from the Sahara. Officials noted the concentration of dust particles was so high that it obscured sunlight and significantly reduced visibility, which led to a marked decrease in electricity production from solar panels.

The elevated levels of fine pollution particles posed serious health risks, exacerbating respiratory issues especially in individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma or chronic bronchitis. Additionally, the dust carried pathogens and allergens, heightening the risk of respiratory infections and allergic reactions. The intensity of the African dust episode peaked last Tuesday, and conditions gradually improved over the week. However, another wave of dust had spread across parts of the western Mediterranean and central Europe by Sunday.

Persistent low pressure across western Europe is expected to facilitate further episodes of African dust reaching the continent this week. Increased dust levels are anticipated from the Mediterranean all the way to Scandinavia, although the westernmost parts of Iberia such as Gibraltar and Portugal might avoid these conditions.

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Rain gardens and bathwater reuse becoming trends, RHS says | Environment

Rain gardens and bathwater are becoming gardening trends, the Royal Horticultural Society has said, as gardeners battle predicted water shortages caused by climate breakdown.

At the Chelsea flower show this year, many of the gardens will be focused on reducing water usage. Rain gardens will be on show, including in the Water Aid garden, which includes a rainwater harvesting pavilion designed to slow its flow, collecting and storing it for irrigation of the garden and filtering it for use as drinking water.

Similarly, the National Autistic Society garden uses rainwater which is channelled away from the main terrace via a “waterfall roof”, which feeds into a mossy dell that acts as a swale during periods of high rainfall, holding rainwater until it can drain away into the subsoil. Rain is also channelled into areas planted with species that can cope with wet conditions.

According to the RHS, a rain garden is a shallow area of ground that receives runoff from roofs and other hard surfaces. It contains plants that can stand waterlogging for up to 48 hours at a time, with drought-tolerant specimens at the edges. The water fills the depression then drains, reducing the need for watering the garden as more moisture is held in the soil for longer. Rain gardens can absorb 30% more water than a lawn and reduce erosion by slowing heavy rainfall, as well as providing food and habitat for insects and birds.

In its own gardens, the RHS has hired experts to explore how grey water, such as from the washing up bowl and the bath, can be used safely and effectively. This includes researching plant and substrate combinations that support the right soil microbiology and plant functions to remove potential pollutants and ways to make the movement of water from house to garden more practical.

Fresh tap water is most commonly used for watering the garden, but as British people are being expected to reduce water usage by 20% by 2038 this may become less feasible. Instead, people will have to create gardens which are tolerant to drought, use water butts and start utilising grey water. One of the advantages of using grey water is that it is generated each day, so large storage tanks or reservoirs are not needed.

Dr Nicholas Cryer, senior water scientist at the RHS, said: “The greenest approach to watering your garden is to minimise its use entirely through clever planting and good soil care, with rainwater harvesting the next best thing. But with summers predicted to become hotter and drier and the need to remedy a growing water deficit, we need to be more creative in how we maintain our green spaces. Single use products are now rightly frowned upon and we should consider water the same way. The estimated 60 litres of grey water produced per person within our homes each day can be recycled in our gardens.”

The best plants for a rain garden according to the RHS

For the wet base, use herbaceous perennials such as:

Iris pseudocorus
Juncus effusus
Carex pendula
Lobelia cardinalis
Zantedeschia aethiopica

Then, around the edge, use shrubs and other perennials that tolerate wet soil as well as dry:

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Sambucus nigra cultivars
Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’
Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’
Rosa rugosa

Ajuga reptans
Campanula glomerata
Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’
Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Then, around those, use some grasses that can tolerate drought

Calamagrostis brachytricha
Deschampsia cespitosa
Miscanthus sinensis

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Taxing big fossil fuel firms ‘could raise $900bn in climate finance by 2030’ | Climate crisis

A new tax on fossil fuel companies based in the world’s richest countries could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to help the most vulnerable nations cope with the escalating climate crisis, according to a report.

The Climate Damages Tax report, published on Monday, calculates that an additional tax on fossil fuel majors based in the wealthiest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries could raise $720bn (£580bn) by the end of the decade.

The authors say a new extraction levy could boost the loss and damage fund to help vulnerable countries cope with the worst effects of climate breakdown that was agreed at the Cop28 summit in Dubai – a hard-won victory by developing countries that they hope will signal a commitment by developed, polluting nations to provide financial support for some of the destruction already under way.

David Hillman, the director of the Stamp Out Poverty campaign and co-author of the report, said it “demonstrates that the richest, most economically powerful countries, with the greatest historical responsibility for climate change, need look no further than their fossil fuel industries to collect tens of billions a year in extra income by taxing them far more rigorously. This is surely the fairest way to boost revenues for the loss and damage fund to ensure that it is sufficiently financed as to be fit for purpose.”

The authors say the levy could be easily administered within existing tax systems. They calculate that if the tax were introduced in OECD countries in 2024 at an initial rate of $5 a tonne of CO2 equivalent, increasing by $5 a tonne each year, it would raise a total of $900bn by 2030.

Of that $720bn would go to the loss and damage fund with the remaining $180bn earmarked as a “domestic dividend” to support communities within richer nations with a just climate transition.

The report is backed by dozens of climate organisations worldwide including Greenpeace, Stamp Out Poverty, Power Shift Africa and Christian Aid.

Areeba Hamid, a joint director at Greenpeace UK, said governments could no longer sit back and let ordinary people pick up the bill for the climate crisis while “oil bosses line their pockets and cash in on high energy prices”.

“We need concerted global leadership to force the fossil fuel industry to stop drilling and start paying for the damage they are causing around the world. A climate damages tax would be a powerful tool to help achieve both aims: unlocking hundreds of billions of funding for those at the sharp end of the climate crisis while helping accelerate a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels around the world.”

The world has seen the devastating effects of the climate emergency, from crippling drought in Africa to deadly floods in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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Hamid added: “Extreme weather is claiming lives and causing catastrophic damage around the world. But while communities that have contributed least to the crisis find themselves on its frontlines, and households across Europe struggle with sky-high energy bills, the fossil fuel industry continues to rake in massive profits with no accountability for its historic and ongoing impact on our climate.”

The report’s publication comes as the newly established loss and damage fund board is preparing for its first meeting in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to discuss how the fund will be financed.

Ministers are also gathering at the G7 climate, energy and environment meeting in Turin, Italy. According to the report, if introduced only in G7 states, where a considerable number of international oil and gas companies are based, the climate damages tax could still raise $540bn for the loss and damage fund by the end of the decade, with a $135bn domestic dividend for national climate action across the G7.

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From petri dish to plate: meet the company hoping to bring lab-grown fish to the table | Fish

The redbrick offices, just north of Hamburg’s River Elbe and a few floors below Carlsberg’s German headquarters, are an unexpectedly low-key setting for a food team gearing up to produce Europe’s first tonne of lab-grown fish.

But inside Bluu Seafood, past the slick open-plan coffee and cake bar, the rooms are dominated by gleaming white tiles, people bustling about in lab coats, rows of broad-bottomed beakers and pieces of equipment more at home in a science-fiction thriller. A 50-litre tank (a bioreactor) is filled with what looks like a cherry-coloured energy drink. The liquid, known as “growth medium”, is rich with sugars, minerals, amino acids and proteins designed to give the fish cells that are added to it the boost they need to multiply by the million.

The aim is to one day sell the resulting product – which will be actual fish rather than a plant-based substitute – to shoppers as a more environmentally friendly alternative to depleting the sea in order to meet demand.

“With cultivated fish, you can also maintain the same nutritional benefits, like the omegas, but without the possible allergens, microplastics, or other contamination,” says Seren Kell, science and technology manager at the Good Food Institute (GFI).

The fish grown in the bioreactor is then mixed with plant-based ingredients to make fish balls and breaded fingers.

Atlantic salmon cells are taken out of a cryotank in the Bluu Seafood lab. Photograph: Henrik Gergen/Bluu

At this early stage, the company’s first planned destination for its products is not the local restaurants but Singapore, a country where cultivated meat is already so well known, you can chat to taxi drivers about it, says Bluu Seafood co-founder and marine biologist, Sebastian Rakers.

“When we told our taxi driver that we were working on cultivated fish, he said ‘I know that, it’s the future. Many chefs would like to put it on the menu here.’”

Singapore is committed to reducing its reliance on food imports. Lab-grown fish and meat are part of a national strategy to locally and sustainably produce 30% of the country’s food by 2030. That plan, says Rakers, is “on everyone’s lips”.

Lab-grown chicken can already be found in select quantities on restaurant menus in Singapore and America, with other types of meat expected soon. But while trends suggest many people are switching away from meat, the perceived health benefits of fish could be an advantage for lab-grown producers.

“Fish has a ‘health halo’,” says Kell. “But there is a growing awareness that seafood is not sustainable. In the EU there is certainly a question over diminishing fish stocks, and cultivated seafood could benefit from that.”

A recent report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates there is a 28m-tonne gap between how much seafood people want and what can be supplied. One sign of a serious search for an alternative source of production, adds Kell, is a major EU research project called Feasts, funded by the Horizon programme, that included cultivated fish research in its latest €7m (£6m) funding offer.

Prototype fish balls. The fish Bluu Seafood grows in the bioreactor is mixed with plant-based ingredients to make fish balls and breaded fingers. Photograph: Anna Brauns/Bluu

The type of lab-grown product will matter too, with items such as fish balls, fingers or nuggets a better bet for making it to mass markets, says Hanna Tuomisto, a sustainable food systems professor at the Helsinki Institute, who studies cellular agriculture. Because of their cellular mix, whole pieces of lab-grown meat and “finless fish” are more complex and therefore more costly to produce.

“A chicken nugget, with undifferentiated cells, is easier to produce than the more complicated and time-consuming process of producing a whole piece of cultivated meat or fish that needs muscle and fat cells,” she says.

A clear advantage to bringing manufactured fish to the market over meat, is a potentially narrow price gap between the lab grown product and the real thing.

“If the holy grail is to match price parity with conventional animal products, then there is a narrower gap for say tuna or salmon [than for cultivated chicken],” says Kell.

Last year, a tasting menu allowing diners to try cultivated chicken at Washington DC’s China Chilcano restaurant cost $70 (£56), compared with a Peruvian-style roasted organic whole chicken at $44. In US supermarkets, you pay about $4 (£3.20) for a pound of traditional chicken. Bluu Seafood estimates a portion of its fish balls will cost about $20 in restaurants, compared with $15 for the regular version.

Dr Sebastian Rakers, CEO at Bluu Seafood. Photograph: Henrik Gergen/Bluu

Price gaps may be even narrower for pieces of whole salmon, says Justin Kolbeck, CEO and co-founder of Wildtype, a cultivated-seafood producer hoping to receive US regulatory sales approval soon. “Salmon is at least $10 [a pound] and prices for premium salmon can exceed $80. That’s one reason I think the economics are different for cultivated fish.” He declined to go into detail about possible prices for his products.

A crucial factor in whether or not cultivated fish takes off is public appetite for it. An unscientific poll on the street near Bluu Seafood’s Hamburg headquarters suggested not everyone was in favour, although most people were positive. “Yes, I would try it, at least once,” says a woman in her 20s. However, another says she “would not pay for lab-grown fish if it was half the price”. She expressed a concern, which may be insurmountable for some, over the comparatively untested nature of cell-based products.

A more precise 2023 consumer study in Japan, the world’s fifth largest seafood consumer, found about 88% of respondents would be unwilling to pay a higher price for cell-based seafood. The other 12% said they would be prepared to pay more, and, of those, about 8% said they would pay “a much higher price”. They will soon have the opportunity to make that choice with one company promising to begin selling lab-grown eel in Japan by 2026.

The same study found that willingness to pay more was determined by an understanding, or not, of lab-grown foods. Those already aware of cell-based seafood “were over 14 times more likely to agree to pay a higher price”, it said.

Rakers had consumer awareness in mind when he made the decision to launch in Singapore. “It’s nice to have your product in a place where people understand it, where people are ready to buy,” he says.

However, it may simply be the novelty that gets people to part with their money in the first instance. As Prof Tuomisto says: “I would probably pay anything just to try it.”

Inside the labs at Bluu Seafood. The company hopes to hit ‘an industrial level of fish cell production’ in the next few years. Photograph: Anna Brauns/Bluu

The prospect of his product one day leapfrogging other cultivated meats to supermarket shelves is not impossible, Rakers says, but not just because it’s better for the ocean, fish populations and free of contaminants.

“Fish have a much higher regeneration capacity than mammals,” he says. “Up to 70% of lost tissue can be fully regenerated.” They can even regrow inner organs, he says. To be able to fully regenerate, fish need to reproduce cells and recruit cells quickly to cover wounds. “That is a real advantage for us. It means we can get more activated cells faster. We think we can hit an industrial level of fish cell production by 2026 or 2027.”

Because the cells Rakers and his team produce will be mixed with seasoning and other plant-based proteins to make fish balls, fingers and other products, the final food volumes will be higher than the cell output. But Rakers says the aim is to keep the fish cell ratio as high as possible. “The more cultivated fish meat we add, the cleaner our ingredient list. It’s not like plant-based fish, where you have to mimic fish. It is fish.”

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Young country diary: What’s that droning noise coming from the river? | Amphibians

I love going back to the same riverside path at the edge of the city. It’s so familiar, but thanks to nature no visit is ever the same. I took my first outdoor steps here beside pink flowers with seeds you can pop, visited the ducks on a snowy Christmas morning and walked my friend’s dog through a meadow with cows.

But one spring afternoon this year was the most amazing yet. I have never seen or heard anything so spectacular in nature. I was walking with my dad when I saw a frog hop across the muddy path. We then crossed a bridge to the other side of the river. There was a droning noise. At first I thought this was coming from planes overhead.

‘This is a very still part of the river, sheltered by tall, thick trees.’ Photograph: Family handout

But we looked down into the river and saw hundreds, maybe even thousands, of frogs. Around them there were masses of frogspawn. If I was to touch it, I think it would have a similar texture to jelly. The green creatures seemed to be having an annual ceremony. I think they chose this spot as it’s a very still part of the river, sheltered by tall, thick trees. We also saw lots of different types of ducks.

I am very happy to see this as it shows the river is thriving with wildlife, this is great news for the environment in my local area. I am going to go back to the river soon to see how the frogspawn is getting on.
Anna, 12

Read today’s other YCD piece, by Alexandra, eight: ‘A fine day for flower-spotting and foraging’

Young Country Diary is published every fourth Saturday of the month. If you’d like to submit a piece, the form will reopen on Saturday 1 June for summer pieces

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