Green Deal makes its mark on EU crop protection sector

The EU's leading crop protection association has expanded its mandate in efforts to be better equipped for the EU Green Deal. [CropLife Europe]

This article is part of our special report Green Deal and agriculture: between words and deeds.

The increased focus on sustainability in the agrifood sector has seen the leading EU crop protection association rebrand and expand its mandate to encompass a more holistic approach to plant protection.

In an interview with EURACTIV, Géraldine Kutas, director-general of the newly launched CropLife Europe, formerly known as the European Crop Protection Agency (ECPA), said the move was part of an effort to be better equipped for the Green Deal,

“Although this is in the line of our thinking for a while, the Green Deal has accelerated this change and made the need for a more holistic, horizontal approach clear,” Kutas said.

Stressing that there is no one crop protection solution, Kutas explained the move was intended to bring “all the tools and solutions under one roof” in order to respond to the rapidly changing demands from society and evolving policy frameworks.

But while the Commission has set a clear direction of travel in both its Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, questions remain over how these ambitions will be implemented. 

“We believe that producing enough food sustainably cannot be achieved by simply reducing the availability of solutions to farmers. Instead, we need to accelerate the development of new, better solutions and enhanced farming practices that utilise more technology to produce our food while using fewer resources,” she said.

“You cannot just leave farmers with no tools – there must be a replacement,” she stressed, adding that these replacements are never a direct substitution. 

Besides conventional pesticides, CropLife Europe will now include tools to make better use of currently available pesticides, such as digital and precision farming, as well as plant biotechnology and biopesticides to offer alternatives tools.

“We are fully conscious that it is one minute to midnight,” she said, stressing the need to drive the transformation of the sector.

However, she warned that this will not happen overnight, pointing to the fact that the average time to take a new product to market is 11 years, which takes us far beyond the 2030 target.

She therefore highlighted the need to accelerate the authorisation process of lower risk profile plant protection products, such as biopesticides.

Fighting fire with fire: pest control by playing nature at its own game

Biological pesticides are rapidly gaining attention as a sustainable and viable environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. However, they are currently hampered by maladapted regulation.

EU ‘not the place to innovate’

This transformation of the sector must be rooted in science, Kutas stressed, highlighting how problematic the “static situation” was on certain scientific developments, such as new plant breeding techniques.

Although she advocated advancing with caution, she praised the fact that the UK looks open to the new technology after England recently launched a consultation on gene editing.

She said she hoped the EU would follow the example of its neighbours across the channel and embrace gene-editing technology, but warned that this also throws up other issues of “access to the EU market and compliance with the EU regulatory system”.

“We hope that the EU will embrace the gene-editing technology because otherwise, it will really mean that the innovation principle doesn’t mean much in Europe, and that Europe is not a place to innovate,” she said, adding that this would send the wrong signal to the industry and mean that innovation is advanced in other markets.

“The fact that this kind of innovation is not welcome in the EU is a pity because the EU can really reap some benefits for the sustainability of agriculture, for protecting the environment, through biotechnology”.

Kutas added that she hoped that the acceptance of biotechnology in the healthcare sector, for example in the creation of vaccines, may spill over into the agricultural sector.

UK launches consultation on gene editing, signals divergence from EU

In one of its first post-Brexit moves, the UK has launched a consultation on gene editing in a bid to unlock “substantial benefits” for the sector and the environment, but the move could put the country at odds with the EU on the matter. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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