Strategic Research Programme 2011-2016: economic impact

Assessment of the economic impacts generated by the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division's research programme.

12 Wider Economic Benefits

This chapter describes some of the wider economic benefits associated with the 2011-16 SRP that it has not been possible to quantify.

12.1 Human Health

SRP funding supports research related to human health in two main ways. MRP researchers undertake research into the prevention and control of pathogen access to the human food chain. This includes pathogens such as E. coli, Cryptosporidium and Campylobacter. As well as this the MRPs are involved in functional foods and nutraceuticals research which aims to help people manage or avoid disease.

12.1.1 Functional Foods

The global nutraceuticals market was valued at $182.6 billion (£150.5 billion) in 2015. Figures for the UK market were not available, however by way of illustration, the vitamin supplement industry is worth around £675 million to the UK. [34] There are further significant economic benefits through the public health implications of disease prevention and improved disease management.

Previous SRP funding led to the development of Fruitflow, a tomato extract which can help with healthy blood flow. MRP research found that biologically active constituents in tomatoes inhibit blood platelet aggregation; a known cause of heart attack, stroke and venous thrombosis. An MRP spin-out Provexis was launched in 1999 to market and sell the product and the company was later listed on the Alternative Investment Market. In 2009 Fruitflow was the first food ingredient to meet the requirements of the European Food Safety Agency for products with a specific health claim. In 2010 the company entered into a long-term Alliance Agreement with DSM Nutritional Products and now has more than 50 healthcare brands (food, drink and nutraceuticals) across the globe, which incorporate Fruitflow. In 2016, Provexis concluded a collaboration agreement with By-Health, one of China's largest health products manufacturers. The agreement aims to target the creation of new products for the estimated 230 million people in China with cardiovascular problems. The total cost of coronary heart disease in China has been estimated to be £14.0 million [35] each year and Fruitflow could therefore generate significant benefits. Although it is not possible to quantify the economic contribution of Fruitflow, it nevertheless provides an example of successful functional food product development and commercialisation founded from SRP funded research.

Although not yet generating impact, the current SRP has been funding research into the effects of berry extracts on diabetes management. MRP scientists have shown that the ingestion of a concentrated bilberry extract in a capsule gives a significantly reduced glucose response in volunteers with Type 2 diabetes who are controlling their diabetes by diet and lifestyle alone. Current research is focused on adipose (fat) tissue responses to blueberry phytochemicals and on investigating the effects of berries on fat and protein in food, to assess whether they can be used as natural additives. Although this area of work is currently in the research phase there are significant potential economic benefits, should a product be developed and commercialised. Type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent form of diabetes affecting 2.5 million people in the UK (about 5% of the population). It is becoming increasingly prevalent with incidence of Type 2 diabetes expected to double in the next 20 years. The total cost (direct care and indirect costs) associated with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the UK currently stands at £23.7 billion and is predicted to rise to £39.8 billion by 2035/36. [36] The research currently being undertaken at the MRPs could therefore have significant economic benefits.

12.1.2 Prevention and Control of Zoonoses

Zoonoses are diseases or pathogens transmitted between animals and people and may involve a wide range of infectious agents. Around 62% of all known human pathogens and 75% of emerging diseases are zoonotic and pathogens may be transmitted by direct contact or through contaminated food or water supplies.

These pathogens can have very damaging economic consequences. This includes direct impacts on economic productivity, for example because people affected need to take time off work and/or direct healthcare costs. There are also indirect impacts linked to wider effects on the food supply chain, such as losses resulting from contamination. SRP funding supports research into several zoonotic pathogens including E. coli, Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, toxoplasma and chlamydia in sheep.

E. coli cases are relatively rare but has been the cause of a number of large and serious foodborne outbreaks, which typically involve lengthy public enquiries and considerable cost to the public purse and food supply chain. Most outbreaks are associated with the consumption of contaminated meat or dairy products as cattle are the main reservoir for the transmission of E. coli. Consequently MRP research is focused on the development of a vaccine for cattle. Research is also being undertaken into the different strains of E. coli in order to understand which strains are more likely to transmit infections.

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and is responsible for an estimated 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year. Around four in five cases of campylobacter poisoning in the UK come from contaminated poultry. The Food Standards Agency estimates that Campylobacter causes more than 100 deaths a year and costs the UK economy about £900 million. MRP research is focused on characterising Campylobacter in order to differentiate strains and assess their pathogenic potential.

Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that causes abortion in ewes. Humans can become infected by eating lightly cooked meat that contains Toxoplasma tissue cysts or following contact with oocysts in cat faeces or by contact with infected sheep and lambs at lambing time. Toxoplasma can cause serious disease in pregnant women and immunocompromised people, such as AIDS patients. Infection in pregnant women may kill the unborn child or lead to severe disability. Although incidence of Toxoplasma in humans is low the costs of the relatively small proportion of cases with severe disease make toxoplasmosis one of the most costly of gastro-intestinal infections. The research focus of the MRPs is on whether or not the current vaccine is able to reduce the number of Toxoplasma cysts found in edible cuts of meat therefore reducing the potential of transmission to humans.

Although it is not possible to quantify the potential economic impacts of MRP research into these pathogens, MRP research into the pathogen Cryptosporidium provides a case study demonstrating the potential reduction in harm achievable by MRP research into zoonoses.

Case Study 12‑1 - Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is recognised as a major contaminant of drinking and recreational waters and is very difficult to control due to its resistance to standard water disinfection processes. Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include mild to severe diarrhoea, abdominal pain and nausea. In individuals with impaired immune systems, such as AIDS patients, the symptoms can be more severe. Cattle, and in particular neonatal calves, are seen as the main reservoirs of this parasite, the oocysts (infective stage) of which are resistant to current chemical treatments used by the water industry causing problems for control.

As a result of SRP funded research into Cryptosporidium, one of the MRPs collaborated with Scottish Water when it was noted that one public water supply in Glenlivet had a historical and current record of Cryptosporidium contamination. There had been numerous cases of human illness, and at least one hospitalisation, as well as high costs to the water provider associated with these outbreaks and to the farms through veterinary treatment and losses in cattle production due to cryptosporidiosis.

In order to identify the source of the Cryptosporidium and find an effective solution water samples were collected and the results from these were compared to those obtained for livestock and wildlife, with the hope of teasing out the transmission routes of the parasite through the catchment. The particular strains of Cryptosporidium present in the catchment illustrated that the parasites detected were predominantly of the same strain indicating that the parasite was transmitted between livestock and deer in the catchment and into the water. This illustrated that all livestock and wildlife tested potentially had a role to play in contamination of the water sources and that transmission of the parasite was evident between livestock and wildlife, due to shared access to hill and enclosed grazing. MRP researchers advocated improving the catchment above the public water supply in order to prevent transmission and disseminated this information through meetings and an on farm event held locally for both the water and livestock farming industries.

Following the intervention the incidences of Cryptosporidium fell from 21 raw water positives in the 6 months before to 2 water positives in the 2 years after, a decline of 90%.

Source: BiGGAR Economics

12.2 Sustainable Rural Communities

The SRP also focuses on supporting rural communities to make them more economically and environmentally sustainable. The research in this area aims to boost farm business productivity, reducing costs and ensuring that more money stays in the local area, and protect livelihoods in traditional industries, such as crofting.

These aims not only improve the economic outcomes of the individuals affected, but also build capacity in the local areas, creating wider opportunities. This ultimately makes rural communities more economically sustainable by attracting new people to the area and providing young people with options that mean they don't have to leave in search of work.

In addition, the research often provides communities with the knowledge and resources to become more environmentally sustainable. Often, reductions in costs can be achieved by managing land better, or by using less resources, which reduces the carbon footprint of rural areas, and ensures that the land maintains its level of productivity.

Farming for a Better Climate, which is administered by one of the MRPs, is a scheme designed to improve the environmental sustainability and profitability of farms throughout Scotland. It provides practical support to benefit farmers and reduce the impact on the climate.

The principal way that research is undertaken is through volunteer Climate Change Focus Farms, which, aided by specialists, experiment with practical measures to improve farm profitability and reduce carbon output. Meetings are then organised to disseminate the findings of this research.

For example, Glenkilrie, a 1,000 hectare beef and sheep farm in Perthshire, volunteered as a climate Change Focus Farm. After implementing changes advised by MRP specialists, it managed to save £11,000 and reduce its carbon footprint by 10%. The Farming for a Better Climate initiative organises its focus into five key areas, which can benefit most farms, including Glenkilrie:

  • using electricity and fuels efficiently - at Glenkilrie they replaced an petrol quad with an electric one, reduced the unnecessary operation of the feed mixer wagon, and matched the machinery better with task at hand;
  • developing renewable energy - considered installing a biomass boiler, and considered the scope to invest in other forms of renewables;
  • locking carbon into the farm;
  • making the best use of nutrients - regular soil sampling instituted to highlight areas that have low potassium and pH, including GPS-based soil analysis, and considered increased use of farm yard manure and slurry storage to maximise nitrogen value; and
  • optimising livestock management - condition scoring animals to optimise feeding, analysing silage to enable more efficient feeding of lambs, screening livestock to identify diseases and unproductive cows early, calving earlier, and replacing straw with recycled wood chip.

12.3 Efficiency of Public Expenditure

The MRPs also contribute towards effectively allocating funding towards the areas where it will generate the most impact. For example, MRPs were intensively involved with how the Scottish Government allocates the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) funding.

As the 2014-20 round of CAP funding was devolved from the EU for the first time, this presented an opportunity to increase the efficiency of its allocation. In order to achieve this one of the MRPs developed a regionalisation model as well as several other funding models to compare results. This was aided by graphical presentations of the data, and the overall approach was complimented by other member states.

In addition, the MRPs has been instrumental in explaining the impact of the proposed changes, especially to individual farms. For example, one of the MRPs developed a CAP Payment Calculator, which they have deployed with over 1,500 clients, and another MRP helped to explain the reforms and their consequences to a wider variety of stakeholders, including the National Farmer's Union Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland. A Farmer Intentions Survey was also carried out, which will serve as a baseline for farmers' views on the CAP.

This and other similar research has also increased understanding of the relative advantage and disadvantage of rural areas within Scotland. The work undertaken on changes to the CAP has also increased the level of experience in the MRP.

Additionally, one of the MRPs developed a socio-economic index for rural communities, which combines 20 indicators for about 2,000 data zones in Scotland. As well as being used to allocate Links Between Activities Developing Rural Economies ( LEADER) funding, this data has been used by a wide range of organisations, such as NHS Highland and the Church of Scotland, to better target resources.


Email: Eilidh Totten,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top