By VICTORIA LEGGETT
Thursday, October 11, 2012
The latest phase of the government’s new life sciences strategy could see the region playing a key role in the fight to feed the world, according to the Norfolk MP charged with advising ministers.
The comments come as today the government issued a “call for evidence” asking leading figures and institutions in farming, business, and the research sector to help Britain unlock the country’s potential.
The information gained will inform the latest phase of the government’s life sciences strategy, focusing on the needs of a growing developing world.
Speaking this, universities and science minister David Willetts said: “The UK is home to a world-leading plant, animal and environmental research base, underpinned by excellent universities and institutes. This makes it incredibly well placed to be at the forefront of finding innovative solutions to food security, in the face of a rapidly growing global population.
“This strategy will look at how we can improve the commercialisation of basic science into new technology and techniques. This would not only enable countries worldwide to tackle the challenges ahead, but would also contribute significantly to economic growth.”
As a special adviser to the department for business, innovation and skills, Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman has been helping to devise that strategy.
He believes the UK’s life sciences sector – which uses bio-science to solve challenges in agriculture, energy and medicine – is ideally placed to help the country “trade its way” out of economic crisis by offering solutions to problems associated with a rapidly growing population.
Mr Freeman said East Anglia, and in particular Norfolk and the Norwich Research Park (NRP) on the edge of the city, could be central to that.
He said: “For a sustainable economic recovery from this debt crisis, Britain needs to trade its way out by selling things the rest of the world needs – particularly the fast-growing developing world.
“Our life sciences sector – the application of bio-science to solve major societal challenges principally in agriculture, medicine and energy – is a major opportunity for the UK.
“By 2050, the rising world population means we have to double food production from half as much energy, land and water. This will need the science and innovation which Norfolk and Norwich is so well known around the world for.”
The new strategy – which is being put together by universities and business minister David Willetts and prime minister David Cameron – is likely to call on expertise in agriculture, energy and medicine to help “feed, fuel and heal the world”.
Mr Freeman said that focus was likely to make this part of the country very important to any future plans.
While Oxford, Cambridge, and elsewhere in the UK are also known for their life sciences research, Norwich is the only one able to link agriculture, energy and medicine in one place.
Mr Freeman, who has travelled abroad to promote Britain and Norfolk as a place to invest in life sciences, said: “Where else in the world can you access the plant-breeding expertise of the John Innes Centre, the nutrition science at the Institute of Food Research and the fuel and energy technology at the Hethel Engineering Centre?
“The development of an ambitious global strategy for UK agricultural science creates a huge opportunity for Norfolk, Norwich and the eastern region to attract multi-million pound investment to develop our agricultural innovations for the benefit of farming here and around the world.”
Last night Clarke Willis, chief executive of Honingham Thorpe-based Anglia Farmers, said yesterday’s headlines about rising food prices made a government focus on life sciences all-the-more important.
He said: “They have brought to everyone’s attention the challenges of producing food – and this is not going to be for just one year, it’s going to be long term.
“It means the work that goes on at the John Innes Centre, which is world class, is important in bringing new technologies to agriculture so that we can feed a growing population.
“I would link food, energy and water; those are the three key sources for human life. And they all come together in the research being done in this county.”
Matthew Jones, chief operating office of the NRP, said its institutions were already carrying out world-leading research and development in agriculture and food but added: “We think it is critical that the UK government builds on its investment in the Norwich Research Park for it to provide solutions to these global challenges over the coming years.”
Earlier this year, it emerged the Norwich Research Park would get £90m of a £250m pot for organisations around the country researching life sciences including the study of food science, biomedicine and energy.
It followed a 2011 announcement by the government that Norwich was to get a £26m grant to expand the park and create laboratories and office space for businesses.