Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the English Sugar Beet Seed Company Ltd (O71)

  English Sugar Beet Seed Company employs up to 20 people involved in variety trials, seed multiplication and marketing sugar beet seed in the UK.


  This Company strongly supports Option 1 of the EU proposals for reform of the sugar regime with price levels to allow domestic and developing countries to invest for a sustainable future. The UK is in balance between supply and demand and does not contribute to surplus quota sugar. The current low world market prices are created by surpluses from many domestic markets being sold very cheaply and do not relate to cost of production or prices realised in those domestic markets, eg Australia.

  The UK beet sugar industry has consistently produced our national quota for over 20 years in an ever more environmentally friendly manner. With around 50% of the UK sugar requirements produced here, we have an excellent degree of security against shipping and international problems. Sugar is a basic ingredient in a multitude of food products, drinks and confectionary. Any interruption of supply such as the recent dock strike in Brazil, a very low cost sugar producer, would be catastrophic for the UK.

  UK produced beet sugar has full traceability and according to a recent Defra "environmental audit" is:

    (a)  beneficial for biodiversity and bird life;

    (b)  substantial reductions in pesticides and fertilizer inputs have been made; and

    (c)  insecticide inputs have been reduced by over 92% since 1982.

  Historically if the price of UK grown sugar beet is reduced leading to lower wholesale sugar prices, this benefit has not reached consumers and no indication has been given that this will be the case in future. Therefore, if Option 2 or 3 were adopted, there would be great disruption in the sugar supply chain and considerable loss of jobs without any obvious benefit to anyone. It has to be remembered there is no guarantee that the present world surplus sugar prices will continue ad infinitum and the present regime gives good stability in price and supply.


  This Company conducts observations and analyses on eight to 10,000 variety plots every year in order to select lines suitable for the UK. Particular emphasis is on disease resistance where success would reduce still further pesticide inputs into the UK sugar beet crop. Rust (Uromyces betae) fungal leaf spot is often widespread in the UK but relatively rare in other beet growing areas. Already 15-20% of sales is invested into research and development and clearly this level could not be maintained if the UK industry was substantially reduced as would be certain if Options 2 or 3 were introduced. Breeding work specifically for the UK would be reduced, consequently the competitiveness of varieties used here would deteriorate.

  An excellent example of breeding success is the introduction by this Company of the variety BALLERINA resistant to Rhizomania (Necrotic Yellow Vein Virus) a potentially devastating soil borne disease which can halve yields. Beet is now grown successfully on infected soils without recourse to any chemical control whatsoever. Both nematode and yellowing viral disease tolerant varieties are already in National List trials.

  This progress leading to further reductions in pesticide use cannot be maintained without a strong profitable industry.


  Sugar Beet is spring sown, therefore cereal stubble can be left in the autumn and open fallow ground left over winter—an attractive habitat for many birds. The crop does not usually give full ground cover until the end of June, a fact particularly appreciated by the abundance of sky larks in beet fields. If the area of sugar beet was reduced, this land would almost invariably be cropped with winter cereals giving an even greater expanse of winter ground cover.

  There has been a very significant reduction in the amount of fertilizer, pesticide and insecticide use on the UK sugar beet crop. The crop has full traceability of inputs.

  In a world of diminishing fossil fuels, it does not seem sensible to increase the "sugar mile", ie distance between factory and customer from about 130 miles to anywhere between 4,000 and 12,000 miles for most sugar import sources.

  On a positive note, a successful UK beet industry could also be used to produce bio-ethanol to replace imported hydrocarbon fuels.

  Almost all the co-products of UK beet sugar manufacture, such as animal feed, molasses, lime, etc are used in productive applications.

1 April 2004

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