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£18m funding goes to food projects

Making lamb tastier to eat and growing new strawberries without soil are among research projects receiving a share of almost £18 million, Downing Street has announced.

Fifteen UK-led projects will share funding of £12.1 million provided by Government and £5.7 million from industry, which also include investigating the protection of peas and beans from beetles without widespread insecticide spraying and using light to extend the shelf-life of fresh produce.

Technology to detect health and welfare problems for pigs earlier, improving food security in India and Pakistan plus pesticide and fertiliser research are among the winners alongside breeding lamb for "more taste and less waste" by scanning live animals.

Millions of pounds of public sector cash will also be up for grabs to British farmers from 2017 when central government commits to buying "locally sourced" fresh and seasonal produce when it can do so, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

Schools, hospitals and the wider public sector will also be encouraged to take a similar approach, ac cording to Number 10.

Up to £400 million of up to £600 million spent by the public sector on imported food and drink could be sourced from within the UK, they added.

Mr Cameron said: "By opening up these contracts, we can help (our farmers) create more jobs, invest in their businesses and make sure people in our country have a healthier lifestyle.

"It's a triple-win - and will mean a brighter future for our country."

Environment Secretary Liz Truss added: "This move will mean that food served in canteens across the public sector can be more local, seasonal and tastier.

"This is a huge boost to British farmers and producers and for students, patients and employees who want to enjoy fantastic food."

Business Minister Greg Clark said of the near-£18 million cash: "This new funding will make a real difference in the commercialisation of pioneering ideas that are helping to tackle issues within the agriculture sector such as pest control and food security.

"Bridging the gap between the lab and the market is a fundamental aim of the UK's agri-tech industrial strategy, reinforcing efforts to ensure the UK is a world leader in agricultural technologies, innovation and sustainability."

Ministers have previously been urged to play the role of matchmaker Cilla Black and take inspiration from Blind Date to improve farming in the UK.

Earlier this month Conservative Anne McIntosh, chairwoman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, insisted p artners from around the world need to be found for UK researchers with the new relationships used to develop technologies and techniques for farmers to use.

She also welcomed government spending on agriculture research as she spoke in the House of Commons about food security.

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