Rapeseed, the home grown alternative to olive oil imports first introduced by the Romans, is again in the headlines as its bright yellow blooms transform parts of Britain.
Opinion concerning the impact the flowering crops have on hay fever sufferers is as seasonal as the crops themselves: “Runny eyes and wheezy chest? Blame Britain’s crops of rapeseed“, Daily Mail 2007 and more recently “Yellow crop has been blamed for Shropshire hay fever rise“.
Now the EU stands accused by Dr Madsen Pirie in the Times of being responsible for this perceived allergy misery: “What’s lurid, yellow and makes you sneeze? Ask the EU“, (21 May 2015).
But the amount of rapeseed currently growing in the UK is not the result of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The CAP subsidy system has been reformed considerably over the last quarter of a century. It is now extremely market-oriented and decoupled from production, a direction strongly supported by the UK government.
That means farmers decide what to produce on the basis of what the market pays, rather than because of a specific subsidy for particular crops. This change was made back in the 1990s.
Dr Pirie is on the other hand quite right to say that the EU is no longer directly or indirectly encouraging the growing of rapeseed for bio-fuels and is instead promoting non-food sources for bio-fuels.
Indeed, the European Commission has said that there should be no support at all for food crop based biofuels after 2020.
Meanwhile, in April this year, the EU decided to limit at 7% the contribution food crop based biofuels (including biodiesel from rapeseed oil) can make towards achieving the 10% target for renewable energy in transport in 2020.
So if the amount of rapeseed being planted continues to increase it is not because of EU intervention in the market. On the contrary, it is all about the market mechanism of supply increasing to meet rising demand.
There is now an abundance of British produced rapeseed oil products each with their own regional flavour (Somerset, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Yorkshire, Northumbria, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Sussex, Hampshire and Aberdeenshire).
Finally, our job is to set the facts straight about EU involvement and not to take sides in medical debates.
But interesting to note that many experts, like Professor Pamela Ewan, consultant allergist at Addenbrookes Hospital here, say that common (or garden) grass – which really is everywhere – is anyway more likely than rapeseed to give you hay fever.