Memorandum submitted by the British Sugar
Beet Seed Producers Association (O41)
The British Sugar Beet Seed Producers Association
(BSBSPA) is the representative body for the sugar beet seed production
and supply industry in the UK, which has an estimated annual value
of £13 million.
The association has seven members who are either
UK plant breeders and seed producers or are representatives of
the major European based companies.
The Association supports Option 1 of the EU
proposals for reform of the sugar regime.
The maintenance of a managed supply and value
chain for sugar from Europe, African, Caribbean and lesser-developed
countries will help to sustain the continued investment in sugar
beet breeding programmes. It will support current progress achieved
by the sugar beet breeding companies and help them respond to
the future challenges of sugar production from beet. The development
of new, improved sugar beet varieties is fundamental to the continued
improvement in UK beet sugar productivity. The UK sugar industry
delivers the highest possible efficiency of production with a
minimum impact on the environment. This safeguards supply, quality
and environmental integrity for the UK consumer.
1. Sugar beet breeding companies currently
re-invest around 20% of turnover in the research and development
of new varieties.
2. The advances in genetic potential delivered
via new improved varieties have made a major contribution to UK
beet sugar productivity. Productivity has doubled since 1991-92,
making it one of the most efficient sugar industries in Europe.
3. This success has come with a built-in
penalty for the sugar beet seed companies. As sugar productivity
increases, so the land area needed to fulfil the UK sugar contract
inevitably decreases. As result, the market for sugar beet seed
in UK has fallen from 225,000 units of seed to grow the UK crop
in 1991 to 164,000 units in 2004.
4. The subsequent reduction in turnover
from seed sales has also eroded the investment available to support
R & D programmes.
5. The maintenance of a stable UK and European
beet sugar industry will help ensure the retention of an estimated
20,000 jobs in the UK, which includes those involved in the seed
6. Recent reductions in the numbers of pesticide
active ingredients available for use on the sugar beet crop brings
into focus the pressure placed on the breeders to produce varieties
with genetic resistance to the pests and diseases specifically
affecting the UK crop. This situation is compounded by the lack
of new active ingredients being introduced by the agrochemical
companies due to high registration costs.
7. In 1987, Necrotic Yellow Vein Virus (rhizomania)
was first found in UK. To date, the only control method for this
disease is to grow varieties with genetic resistance. Under UK
conditions and in the presence of the disease, current resistant
varieties can produce yields equal to the susceptible commercial
varieties. Under rhizomania infected conditions, susceptible varieties
could suffer a yield reduction of 50% or greater.
8. In the future, the breeder will be asked
to incorporate resistances to a range of pests and diseases, which
9. Sugar beet is already very efficient
at utilising available soil moisture. It uses only 50% of the
water needed to produce a kilogram of sugar from sugar cane. Water
management and conservation will become more critical, particularly
if the effects of greenhouse gasses are sustained. Selection for
drought tolerance is already an integral part of some breeding
10. As a spring-sown crop, UK sugar beet
makes a positive contribution to biodiversity. It offers a unique
habit to wildlife in an environment dominated by winter sown wheat
11. Sugar produced from UK grown beet travels
significantly fewer "food miles" from grower to domestic
consumer than imported cane sugar.
12. While not yet accepted for commercial
use in the UK, GM technology will offer a more rapid response
to specific agronomic problems by halving the time to develop
and introduce new varieties.
13. The use of GM technology, when managed
sympathetically, will also produce significant benefits to biodiversity
through the use of varieties resistant to more environmentally
friendly active ingredients than are currently being applied to
14. Allied to new genetic disease resistance,
GM technology could offer a cost benefit in crop production.
15. Currently, all new sugar beet varieties
complete two years in UK run statutory trials in order to establish
an improvement over existing varieties under UK conditions. If
they meet the required standard, they are accepted onto the National
List of Sugar Beet Varieties and can then be commercialised. If
the area of sugar beet grown in the UK further declines, it may
reach the point where the cost of such UK trials is deemed unacceptably
high. The breeders will then no longer use the UK National List
system. They will use the legitimate alternative of the EC Common
Catalogue of varieties in order to market their varieties in the
16. Further loss of volume of the UK sugar
beet seed market would result in reduction in the number of breeders
and the loss of their gene pools. Also, importantly, competition
effects would diminish as probably only the largest companies
17. The loss of gene pools and breeding
activities could lead to stagnation in genetic productivity with
the inevitable "knock on" effect to the sugar industry.
18. Sugar, being a hydrocarbon, can be adapted
to allow the production of other products such as bio-ethanol
for green fuel. This is potentially a whole new environmentally
friendly industry, which will need ever increasing efficiency
through sustained plant breeding.
19. The UK beet sugar production chain,
including sugar beet seed, is subject to very high food manufacturing
standards and environmental safety regulations, audits and controls.
This provides the UK with a quality product that can meet all
the requirements of modern food consumers.
30 March 2004