The government’s chief scientist has hit out at “misconceived” EU regulations that are not based on science.

During a briefing at Sheep 2012 in Malvern, Sir John Beddington gave the example of a change in the way agricultural chemicals are assessed for safety.

“They are assessed not on risk, but on if they are hazardous,” he said. “That’s nonsense, because it depends on how much you use. On those grounds you couldn’t put coffee on land, because it is a carcinogen.”

Prof Beddington used his opening address at the show to warn that the speed of change in the world is “quite frightening” and farmers need to consider how they will adjust to that change.

In just 13 years there will be an extra one billion people on the planet, the growth being split across Africa and Asia, he said.

“Most of them are going to be in cities and are going to need feeding.”

Agriculture has been neglected in the past and people have seen it as a problem industry because of things like grain mountains, he said.

“Not now. We’ve got to look at how we generate production to feed a bigger world and the issue is quite frightening, as it is all happening so quickly.”

Prof Beddington said it was nonsense to claim it would be possible to feed the world if everyone ate a vegetarian diet, considering 30-40% of the world’s farmland could only support livestock.

The answer is “sustainable intensification”, which means producing more food with less inputs, he said.

“We need to start thinking about how we adjust to that change. How can we make more from the same bit of land or the same flock?”

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