EU farmers ‘hostages’ of unstable politics and technology gap, report claims

Howard Minigh: "This report shows Europe has got the balance all wrong, and the impact will be serious and continue to hurt the continent for generations." [Shutterstock]

The lack of access to modern technologies combined with the fragile political landscape has put agriculture production in the EU under enormous pressure, at a time when other major farm markets in the world are growing, a new report has found.

The report, published on 4 September by market analysts AgbioInvestor, paints a dark picture for the future of EU agriculture. It was commissioned by CropLife International.

It says that the EU agricultural productivity has stagnated while other major players in the farm sector have increased their productivity thanks to modern farming technologies.

“The continued unpredictable political environment will likely lead to further reductions in the availability of crop protection products and biotech seeds in the region, further hampering farmers’ efforts to sustainably increase production,” the report warns.

The authors of the report particularly criticised the EU for blocking the rise of seed biotechnology, which is flourishing in other parts of the world and has led to increased yields.

“The USA, Brazil and China have seen drastic increases in agricultural productivity due to the adoption of new technologies, such as plant biotechnology and modern crop protection products,” the report noted.

In July, the European Court of Justice ruled that organisms obtained by the mutagenesis plant breeding technique are Genetically Modified Organisms (GDOs) and should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.

The landmark ruling triggered a strong reaction from the industry, which said the decision dealt a severe blow to biotech innovation.

Industry shocked by EU Court decision to put gene editing technique under GM law

The European Court of Justice ruled on 25 July that organisms obtained by mutagenesis plant breeding technique are GMOs and should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive, in a surprising move that went contrary to the Advocate-General’s non-binding opinion.

For the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), a body representing the national science academies of all 28 EU member states, the decision represents a “setback for cutting-edge science and innovation in the EU”.

“It remains to be seen what implications this decision may have outside of the EU, particularly in developing countries who stand to benefit most from crops that better withstand the devastating effects of climate change,” EASAC said.

The next CAP

The report also emphasised that the hazard-based EU regulatory system has decreased crop protection products in the continent and has increased innovation costs.

“The cost of innovation has significantly increased over the past decade, while the number of crop protection products has decreased and GM technology is largely not available in the EU.

“This is driven by an EU regulatory system which is increasingly based on perceived hazard rather than risk, and does not provide the predictability that businesses (both farmers and agrichemical companies) require to operate and innovate effectively,” the report added.

Howard Minigh, president of CropLife International, said the industry backs a rigorous regulation to protect public health and the environment.

“But this report shows Europe has got the balance all wrong, and the impact will be serious and continue to hurt the continent for generations,” he added.

Referring to the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy, the authors said the proposed cuts could severely harm farmers’ income if they continue being denied access to new technologies.

In light of the Brexit and the emergence of new priorities such as security and immigration, the Commission proposed a 5% cut in CAP funding, prompting a strong reaction from EU farmers and the environmental community.

Sowing the seeds of the post-2020 CAP

In June 2018, the European Commission unveiled its much-awaited plans for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In light of the Brexit and the emergence of new priorities such as security and immigration, the Commission proposed a 5% cut in CAP …

“The EU is also falling behind when it comes to using innovative planting systems involving precision agriculture, which has the potential to provide more efficient planting of seed and use of crop protection products, resulting in cost savings and productivity gains for the grower,” the report said.

Based on the need to “produce more with less”, precision farming is emerging as an innovation-driven solution aiming to help farmers manage their farms in a sustainable way, taking into account the “slightest detail” of everyday farming.

The Commission was loudly in favour of smart farming and the introduction of new technologies in the sector but its new CAP proposals lack the initial ambition, critics have suggested.

Science just on paper

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, Beat Späth from EuropaBio said the EU-decision making process was science-based on paper only.

“But numerous member states vote against authorising products which are confirmed to be as safe as conventional plants. That’s clearly not science-based,” he said.

He emphasised that the discussion about GMOs in Europe should start again and that Europeans should have a grown-up, factual conversation.

“EU livestock farmers are reliant on GM feed, yet their arable neighbours cannot grow it – this does not make sense,” he noted.

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CORTEVA Agriscience

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