NON-FOOD CROPSGOVERNMENT RESPONSE
- The Government welcomes this report from the
House of Lords Select Committee, and the opportunity it presents
to review the position on non-food crops.
- The Government believes firmly that non-food
crops have an important contribution to make towards sustainable
development through substitution for products made from petroleum
or other mineral sources, and by direct synthesis of chemical
compounds which can otherwise only be produced by laborious processes.
They can provide important new sources of raw material for industrial
sectors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction and energy.
And they can help farmers to diversify into profitable new markets
and contribute to rural development and employment.
- The Committee has rightly emphasised the importance
of non-food crops other than energy crops, where the Government
has recently announced plans to provide substantial support. The
Government accepts that these other crops also need encouragement
in suitable ways, and it will look positively at the Committee's
various recommendations, subject of course to the availability
of resources. The report's central messages: that activity should
be better co-ordinated in the UK and in Europe; that research
should play an important role; and that activity should be geared
to industrial potential, are ones which the Government is happy
- The following detailed response to the Committee's
recommendations has been put together in discussion between MAFF,
DTI, OST, DETR, Home Office, DH and the devolved administrations.
References are to the paragraphs in the Committee's report.
7.10 We recommend that responsibility for assessing
and exploiting the potential of non-food crops, and in particular
their potential to form the basis for new innovative industries,
be co-ordinated by an inter-departmental committee led by the
Office of Science and Technology (OST).
- The Government agrees that further co-ordination
of non-food crops activity is needed and that this would benefit
both the non-food sector of agriculture and various branches of
industry, particularly the chemicals sector.
- There are a number of reasons why this is
timely. The current collaborative research programme into Competitive
Industrial Materials from Non-Food Crops (CIM LINK) expires in
2001, and thought needs to be given to future arrangements. The
Alternative Crops Technology Interaction Network (ACTIN) is reviewing
its future and its relations with its European counterpart IENICA.
The Food Chain and Crops for Industry Foresight panel is due to
report in November. These activities already bring together Government
- A number of Departments are involved with non-food
crops, but given their industrial significance the Government
believes that co-ordination in Government alone is not enough.
Rather, it would be more effective to set up a joint mechanism
with the relevant industry sectors and the scientific community.
The Government therefore proposes to consult interested parties
on the establishment of a joint forum, whose role would be to
keep under review the development of non-food crops, to look ahead
for potential opportunities, to advise on priorities for research,
and to advise on ways in which Government policy can help.
- The development of these crops must be led by
the market, and industry has prime responsibility for assessing
and exploiting their potential. Industry is already active through
the ground-breaking internet database operated by ACTIN, the CIM
LINK programme and the Food Chain and Crops for Industry Foresight
panel task force entitled 'Unlocking the potential of industrial
crops'. This task force is taking a strategic look at the factors
that may provide business opportunities to companies operating
in the industrial crops sector, or who may move into it. It will
also look at the barriers that exist now and may arise in the
future to the pull-through of basic science and technology into
successful applications. The proposed forum would provide a mechanism
for strategic discussion of this whole area, and for the conclusions
of the Foresight Panel to be taken forward.
7.11 This Committee should be headed by the Minister
for Science as an identifiable "champion". The Minister
and the committee should publish a report annually on its progress.
- The Government believes that the joint industry/Government
forum, described above, would be the most appropriate way to take
this forward, and that it should be led by a senior industrialist
from one of the DTI user sectors. It would publish an annual report
on the state of development of non-food crops. The success of
non-food crops in meeting industry's needs is dependent on agriculture
for a consistent supply (quality, quantity, price) of crop-derived
raw material, and agriculture policy is crucial in achieving this.
For this reason, the Government's view is that MAFF should take
the lead in convening the joint initiative. Other departments
- including DTI, OST and DETR - with an interest in developing
and promoting the use of non-food crops by industry and in sustainable
development will have a key role to play in ensuring the success
of this initiative.
7.14 We recommend that the United Kingdom Government
should make representations to the European Commission to establish
a coherent European policy, with emphasis on the support of a
co-ordinated research programme, in the context of the 6th Framework
Programme which is now under discussion. The programme should
address not only new crops but also the crop handling and processing
necessary for future industries.
- We agree that co-ordination between the various
Directorates General in the European Commission could be improved.
There are various examples where this has been lacking such as
the EU White Paper on Renewable Energy, which set targets for
a significant expansion in biomass production but which received
no practical support from the DG Agriculture. It is disappointing
that the Common Agriculture Policy seems so unable to take account
of new issues such as the development of crops as industrial feedstocks.
The Government has been making this point clearly in Brussels
in the context of the current reform of the flax and hemp regime,
where the Commission's proposals, although a useful step towards
reform, would discriminate against production of flax and hemp
for new industrial uses.
- The current Framework Programme (FP5) includes
the possibility of action on novel crops and crops for non-food
uses and could include research on crop handling and processing
to which the Committee refers. The Government is keen to encourage
research in these areas but the number and quality of proposals
has not been particularly high. The Commission and Member States
are considering how to generate more interest.
- For the future, the structure, organisation and
science content of FP6 are being discussed with the Commission.
The Government considers that EU research programmes should be
driven by the needs of Community policies and R&D funds concentrated
on areas which require co-operation at EU level. Policy makers
should be involved in the formulation of programme objectives.
Non-food crops, their handling and processing, is an area where
more work is needed, and the Government is pressing for this to
7.15 We recommend that this database (IENICA)
be maintained and extended to include greater technical detail
to assist decision-making by growers and manufacturers.
- This is a valuable recommendation which the Government
supports. IENICA (the Interactive European Network on Industrial
Crops and their Applications) is an EU initiative funded by DG
Research. The IENICA database was developed at the MAFF Central
Science Laboratory in York and its wide geographic base facilitates
targeted EU seminars on non-food crops. The Government supports
the need for such exchanges of information and for easy access
to quality data.
- There is scope for the technical content of IENICA
to be extended. For example, it would be possible to include data
on specifications for crop-derived raw materials and market specifications
- However, IENICA is funded by the EU and its future
development is a matter for the European Commission. CSL is well
placed to lead future development and is bidding for funds for
7.16 We recommend that detailed consideration
should be given to subsuming the ACTIN database into IENICA.
- ACTIN seeks to encourage links between industry,
Government and the research community in the development of renewable
raw materials from crops. It has received substantial pump-priming
assistance from the Government in its first few years of existence.
IENICA is a gateway database for Europe with links to other relevant
databases. It holds information on plants, markets, opportunities
and constraints. Both initiatives maintain internet databases.
ACTIN's is more detailed, but the information is largely confined
to UK interests. Much of the information is available only to
subscribers. IENICA has a broader range of information from many
Member States, though this is less detailed and less technically
developed. It is available free of charge.
- Since the two databases share complementary objectives,
bringing the two together is an interesting idea. It would certainly
be helpful to put in place suitable links, so that users could
easily move between them. However, it is difficult to envisage
ACTIN being wholly subsumed within IENICA, because of concerns
that UK industry would lose competitive advantage because of the
need to share details of project and other activities. This said,
with the withdrawal of Government pump-priming funding ACTIN must
operate on a commercial basis and it is for ACTIN and its industry
sponsors to decide on its own future.
7.18 We strongly support the case for research
into applications of biotechnology, to enable the potential for
new pharmaceutical and other products to be developed from plants
to be evaluated.
- The Government agrees that transgenic technology
has much to offer in the development of novel therapeutic and
prophylactic medicinal products from plants. This development
presents potential opportunities for applying the technology to
the protection and the improvement of human health. This technology
has been actively pursued by certain sectors of the industry,
as a commercially attractive alternative to the conventional process
based on cell culture, in view of the higher production yields
- As with other pharmaceuticals, products derived
from plants will be subject to rigorous regulatory scrutiny to
ensure that they meet the objective criteria for safety, quality
and efficacy. The Government's priority with biotechnological
developments is to protect public health and the environment.
The CIM LINK programme already provides a collaborative mechanism
to support research into areas like this. When arrangements are
discussed for its successor, the importance of supporting high
value, low volume products will be considered.
7.19 We recommend that the DTI evaluate the industrial
potential of these nascent technologies, and that they be assessed
on the basis of their contribution to a new biotechnology industry
rather than focusing purely on ways to increase farm diversification.
- Given initiatives currently underway within DTI
and OST, the Government does not believe that there is a case
for new work from DTI at this stage. The joint Government-industry
forum proposed above would look at this issue in the light of
the opportunities and barriers identified by the Foresight task
force, Unlocking the potential of industrial crops, and by work
underway under other Foresight Panels - on Chemicals and Materials
- that also touch on non-food crops.
- Non-food crops are not seen primarily as a way
to increase farm diversification, though this is a useful benefit
from them. Although it is true that interest in such crops was
boosted by the introduction of set-aside, farmers are well aware
of the need to grow for the market and this is now the principal
driver for their production.
7.20 We recommend that DTI-funded research and
development is increased so that the United Kingdom will be early
to market with novel industrial products from plants.
- DTI recognises the industrial importance of many
non-food crops and already devotes significant effort to promoting
the competitiveness of the industries concerned, inter alia
through targeted programmes of research. Relevant sectors include
textiles, clothing and footwear and paper, cotton and rubber.
DTI co-sponsors the CIM LINK programme, and is a sponsor of ACTIN.
- While it is not possible to devote the same level
of resource to every sector, the Department is keen to work closely
on competitiveness with all the sectors for which it has sponsorship
responsibility. However, the case for supporting new R&D must
be judged against other priorities.
- Other Departments have programmes of underpinning
research and development which aim to develop the potential of
non-food crops. Expenditure by MAFF and the Scottish Executive
totals around £1.8m per annum. Government funding for the
CIM LINK programme amounts to £4m over 5 years.
- MAFF is contributing £2.1m to the establishment
of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), a new research
centre at the Biology Department of the University of York. CNAP
aims to utilise knowledge of plant biology, particularly in the
area of functional genomics and protein science, in the development
of renewable industrial resources from plants. The research studies
plant genes and the links between genes, the proteins they produce
and secondary metabolites. The aim is to provide underpinning
information for research into the use of plants as 'cell factories'.
These could be important for a substantial range of non-food purposes
including new chemicals and pharmaceuticals and natural and modified
products with new uses.
7.21 We urge the Government to use the intervening
period to put in place the necessary United Kingdom research programmes
to resolve the uncertainty over policy implementation and to prepare
for the phased introduction of new technologies and the development
of new industries.
- The Committee is referring to uncertainties about
the future of agricultural policy. The Government's long term
policy towards agriculture is to secure a more competitive and
sustainable industry with a stronger market orientation. This
was our philosophy in pressing for a radical reform of the Common
Agricultural Policy during the Agenda 2000 negotiations. The outcome
represents an important step in the right direction for the CAP:
a shift from price support to direct payments, which will reduce
the economic distortions of the Common Agricultural Policy; and
an integrated EU rural development policy which provides the basis
for a switch of emphasis from production-related support towards
targeted environmental and rural economy measures. We will pursue
opportunities to push for completion of the reform process started
at Berlin to be completed for other commodities. If there is meaningful
reform this should give a sound basis for the introduction and
development of new technologies and industries.
- On research and development, the Government has
already committed funding to the CIM LINK programme. This comes
to an end in mid-2001 and we are giving thought to an updated
programme of activity in the future. This is in addition to other
work funded by MAFF and the Scottish Executive (see the response
to paragraph 7.20). An enhanced programme of R&D on crop protection
and environmental monitoring is also being planned in parallel
with the new support for establishment of energy crops.
7.22 We recommend that the Government put in place
as a matter of urgency more clearly defined policies to meet their
environmental targets, particularly with respect to sustainability
issues and the use of renewables. In doing so, they should recognise
the possible contribution of non-food crops.
- Since coming to office the Government has done
a great deal to develop environmental targets in consultation
with interested parties. This is an ongoing process, which includes
many Departments' initiatives:
- In May 1999 DETR published the White Paper, A
Better Quality of Life: a strategy for Sustainable Development
in the UK. This included a revised set of sustainable development
- MAFF is publishing sustainable agriculture indicators,
which include non-food crops, in February.
- DETR is responsible for developing and co-ordinating
the Draft Climate Change Programme for the UK which will set out
how climate change targets and objectives are intended to be achieved.
- DTI has published on 1 February 2000 Conclusions
in Response to the Public Consultation on New and Renewable Energy,
in which it proposes that 5% of UK electricity requirements should
be met from renewable resources by the end of 2003 and 10% by
2010, subject to affordability. It recognises that energy crops
have a role to play in meeting these targets.
- HM Customs and Excise has consulted on how the
Climate Change Levy Fund might be used to support renewables,
including energy crops.
- Non-food crops have a contribution to make in
these various policy areas. But the Government accepts there is
potential to raise the profile of non-food crops further and to
ensure that relevant Government policy is co-ordinated to best
effect. The joint Government/industry forum proposed in response
to recommendation 7.10 will provide a mechanism for achieving
7.23 We recommend that future proposed short rotation
coppice demonstration projects for energy generation be assessed
for priority by the proposed inter-departmental committee alongside
alternative options for the financial support of innovative non-food
- The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
has recently announced that he plans to spend £29m to support
the development of energy crops in England under the Rural Development
Regulation. The DTI Conclusions in Response to the Public Consultation
on New and Renewable Energy indicate that supplementary support
to the generation of electricity from energy crops and offshore
wind is also being considered. Expenditure in these fields will
be evaluated in due course.
- Energy crops and the other crop-derived renewable
raw materials are complementary but separate industries. The needs
of the sectors and the possible mechanisms for supporting them
are different. The Government accepts that innovation should be
encouraged for other non-food crops, and will take the advice
of the proposed new forum on the priorities which should be attached
to this. The resources which can be devoted by the Government
will depend on the strength of the case made for these crops.
7.24 We recommend that the Government support
further research, using technologies such as Life-Cycle Assessment,
to assess the value of non-food crops in meeting their policy
objectives. These assessments, with all the assumptions on which
they rely, should be published.
- The Government agrees that it would be helpful
to have better tools for assessing the benefits of non-food crops
and their value in meeting policy objectives. Such tools could
include assessment of environmental benefits through life-cycle
- MAFF has in fact funded work to establish principles
for Life-Cycle Analysis for non-food crops and it is intended
to take this forward through published work and at a targeted
seminar. Life-cycle analysis can be expensive but the Government
will use such tools where appropriate.
- Government policy is to make research and development
reports publicly available.
7.25 We urge the Government to raise the benefits
of bio-degradable packaging in its hierarchy of objectives, and
to recast the regulatory regime to encourage its use.
- Much packaging waste is already bio-degradable,
being based on paper and card.
- We encourage producers to take the whole life
costs of their products into account wherever possible, and this
may affect the choice of materials used. Products which are designed
to be easily re-usable and recyclable will often be preferable
to products designed specifically for disposal. This basic principle
of the waste hierarchy reflects two major objectives: encouraging
the more efficient use of resources, and reducing the environmental
impact of waste management.
- One of the environmental impacts of disposing
of bio-degradable matter to landfill is the production of methane,
one of the principal greenhouse gases. This is one of the drivers
behind the EU Landfill Directive, which sets challenging targets
for the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill.
- The role of bio-degradable packaging is a further
issue, which the industry/Government forum proposed in response
to recommendation 7.10 will no doubt wish to consider.
7.27 We recommend that the growing of industrial
hemp should be deregulated.
- UN drugs legislation requires active control
of industrial hemp production, hence the need for the licensing
system operated by the Home Office. There is evidence that other
Member States implement UN requirements in a less rigorous way
and we understand that the UN's International Narcotics Control
Board is likely to raise this with the European Commission.
- Meanwhile, the Commission has proposed reform
of the CAP regime for flax and hemp, including new controls on
the growing of industrial hemp and on the import of hemp seed.
Amongst other things this would require Member States to implement
prior approval of hemp growing, as the UK already does. Whilst
the Government is broadly in favour of reform of this regime,
we question whether all the new controls on hemp proposed by the
Commission are needed, and have drawn this recommendation in the
Committee's report to their attention.
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food