DEC 2016: Social and Political Challenges for the Bioeconomy

Social and Political Challenges for the Bioeconomy, December 8th & 9th 2016

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Over 70 delegates from academia, industry, policy, government and funding agencies joined us for our ‘Social and Political Challenges for the Bioeconomy’ Event, December 8th & 9th 2016 at Halifax Hall Sheffield.  The event addressed the challenges facing the bioeconomy related to rapid scientific, technological and societal change. 

The event kicked off with an introduction from Susan Molyneux-Hodgson, followed by a briefing from Mark Turner, BEIS, on how the government is currently trying to shape the UK Bioeconomy. He discussed some of the key announcements from the Autumn Statement, including that ”Funding of £120 million will be provided until 2020/21 to incentivise university collaboration in tech transfer and in working with business.”

Next we heard from Colin Miles from the BBSRC about the Bioscience-Society Interface and what work is being done to enhance this.

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Andy Balmer, from The University of Manchester then spoke about ‘Synthetic biology from end to end: Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)’, using his work on Menthol as an example, conlcuding that ”it is as yet unclear how the RRI work being done around university-based research will translate when commercial imperatives become the focus of activity”.

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Celia Caulcott, Vice-Provost of Enterprise, UCL then took to the stage to discuss ‘The UK as a global hub for innovative research and commercialisation for the bioeconomy: policy recommendations’. Her thought provoking presentation highlighted the need for universities and business to engage and invest in long-term, strategic investment – in capability and assets.

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Stuart West, from the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum then presented his views on the Social and Political aspects of the UK Strategy for IBBE. He spoke of the need to take a pro-active approach to promoting the benefits of IBBE to a wide range of stakeholders, concluding that ”IBBE touches many parts of our lives without us realising it – It is important!” The Government has supported it well so far and the IBLF wants a stable and long-term public funding landscape accessible to both companies and academics. We need to communicate better outside the science community and engage and challenge bad science.”

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”Having a chance to meet social scientists and discuss science from a different perspective was great.”


The mornings sessions were then rounded up by Craig Berry from The University of Sheffield, who spoke about his thoughts on UK Industrial policy and the Bioeconomy, questioning how industry activity can be scaled up through collaboration. His presentation took as a focus the current state of UK Industrial policy and how the Bioeconomy fits into this policy.  Craig stressed the importance of looking at how industrial policy is helping in other countries and highlighted that  we must recognise and invest in biotech innovation that genuinely supports sustainability.

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After a networking lunch the afternoon started with Jane Calvert from The University of Edinburgh talking about Synthetic biology, innovation and the public good, followed by Matt Goodwin from CPI presenting on the challenges for industry working in the bioeconomy. Les Levidow from The Open University then spoke on Divergent policy agendas for a sustainable European bioeconomy. 

The day was rounded up with a choice of two workshops. Stevie de Saille, University of Sheffield, used Lego Serious play to look at ‘What’s at stake in stakeholder communication?’ and Rob Meckin and Andy Balmer, University of Manchester, led lively discussions on Methodological and organisational considerations for translation in the Bioeconomy.

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”A fantastic opportunity to hear how RRI thinking is developing and how the community thinks about the bioeconomy.”


Day Two started with a presentation from The University of Sheffield’s Martin Craig’s who looked in detail at ‘Treasury Control’ and its implications for green industrial strategy and the bioeconomy.

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This was followed by Will Cannon of Croda talking about the Social and political aspects of a 100% biobased materials company. His thought provoking talk concluded ”The choices we make as consumers will determine the timetable to achieving a 100% Bio-based materials Industry. Well crafted policy may ease the path but it will not succeed on its own.”

Next Lionel Clarke from the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council presented on Developing a road map for Synthetic Biology: The importance of Sociology and Policy. His talk sparked some lively comments.  

This was followed by David Newman from the BBIA discussing The potential for bio-based solutions to contribute to the UK economy, his key take home message being that ‘‘the IBBE industry needs a signal from Government that it takes the sector seriously since so far this is totally absent.”

Alison Mohr, University of Nottingham, presented on the Social and Ethical Dimensions of Developing Biofuels, where she discussed the ethical questions about treating living organisms (bacteria) as machines and the potential risks of using living nature as a tool.

This was followed by Liz Jenkinson, Green Biologics Limited, who spoke about Innovating Responsibly for Industry, summarising that ”working responsibly in an industrial setting does not have to be difficult and does not have to be time consuming”.

The second day ended with another two workshops. Sujatha Raman and Alison Mohr, University of Notthingham looked at the Social aspects and Challenges of Antimicrobial Resistance, and Liz Jenkison hosted a group talking about Responsible Innovation in Industry.

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“Just a big thank you for the quality and organisation of what was for me, a very thought stimulating couple of days”.


The conference raised a number of important questions on the bioeconomy which will feed into future programmes of CBMNet.

You can view the presentations from the event below: