Thursday, July 19, 2012

[biofuelwatch] The UK and the Emerging Global Bio-Economy

The UK and the Emerging Global Bio-Economy

The UK faces two - twin - challenges. How to unlock a sustainable UK economic recovery, by selling things the (faster growing) rest of the world actually needs. We can't borrow and spend our way out of our debt crisis. We have to work and trade our way out. With the Eurozone in crisis that will mean focussing our economy much more clearly on the developing world. We can trade our way out of crisis by selling them the things we have developed in our advanced and mature economies (advanced science and innovation, professional legal/financial services, culture etc.) to help support their development.

I believe our Life Science sector has a key role to play in that. As these nations develop from subsistence to more advanced economies, they will pass through a series of phases of growth - a kind of Maslow hierarchy of needs - in which their needs evolve. Today these nations need public health, agriculture and food, water and basic energy supplies. In the coming decades they will develop into major markets for more sophisticated (Western) bio-medicines, sophisticated foods and clean energy. The Life Sciences are about the 'appliance of bio-science' to solve societal problems - principally in the three core markets of medicine, agriculture and energy.

Our life science sector can play a key role in helping them achieve that transition, whilst driving investment into our science base, and supporting the UK's leadership in clean energy, biomedicine and food science.

The global challenge of sustainable development and the biological revolution in genomics which defines our generation is opening up a new global bio-economy. Developing nations and global corps seeking out world class centres of research to invest in the technologies which can deliver the clean energy, food security and biomedicine the developing world needs. Last week I was at the global BIO conference with David Willetts to see for myself the scale of the opportunity for the UK.

For too long our agri-science sector has been the 'cinderella' science. Successive governments have invested huge amounts in Medicine and Energy but all too little in agricultural and food science. This may have made sense in the 1980s with Europe awash with food surpluses because of the distortions of the CAP subsidies, but it makes no sense today given the scale of world food insecurity, famine, climate change and the threat to biodiversity of an exploding global population.

Our UK agri-research sector is still world class and has a potentially major contribution to make in the discovery of new generation agricultural techniques, crops and processes to drive increased production in an environmentally sustainable way. This isn't just about GM - but a much wider range of science across conventional breeding, soil, water, nutrition, development economics and technology transfer. "Biotechnology" in the broadest sense has a key role to play. But we will never attract the investment or unlock our potential with an EU policy framework which hostile to intensive agricultural generally and GM specifically.

The benefits of GM crop science are becoming more obvious. GM bred drought and pest resistant crops like the Norfolk bred blight resistant potato offer huge environmental benefits in reduced use of agro-chemicals and biodiversity. Advances in poultry and animal breeding like that at the Roslin Institute in Scotland offer huge benefits to subsistence farmers in the 3rd world. And advances in 'nutri-ceuticals' and 'functional foods' like the (non-GM) heart disease and cancer preventing broccoli on sale at M+S offer very real health benefits to consumers. No-one is suggesting this need be compulsorily available. Consumers and farmers ought to be able to choose what they grow and eat. But the arguments against any consideration or further research into GM are looking increasingly hysterical.

The world is crying out for science and innovation to help tackle mankind's most pressing challenges. We live in a time of extra-ordinary scientific progress and discovery, not least in the bio-sciences.

It's time to create a framework in which the UK''s global leadership in science can be put to use for the benefit of the world, and the UK economy, and the huge benefits of GM can be unlocked to help us help the developing world, whilst allowing UK consumers and growers to choose between food from crops grown organically, conventionally or from GM derived strains.

Our agricultural life sciences have the potential to make a major contribution to UK growth and global sustainable development, food security and biodiversity.

I believe we have a twin moral duty and a golden economic opportunity to put it to work for the good of mankind.


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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

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