The agri-food industry and EU farmers are calling for clarity and science-based solutions to meet their objectives as part of the EU’s recently announced European Green Deal.
The new plans, combined with the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy and a reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), aims to transform Europe’s agricultural sector, ensuring food security while preserving environmental and human health and working to make the EU carbon neutral.
In a recent op-ed for EURACTIV, Luc Triangle, general-secretary of industriAll Europe, said that this transition to climate neutrality will bring “significant opportunities, such as the potential for economic growth, new business models, new forms of working and technological development” and that advanced research, innovation and development policies will have to play a key role.
Referring to the Green Deal, Henri Moore, head of global responsibility at Corteva, said that while she would like to see further details, she confirmed that, as a stakeholder, Corteva “will participate in the Green Deal dialogue”.
She added that Corteva’s new crop protection tools and products with natural origin are “creating options to help farmers bring sustainable food to consumers” through their integrated crop solutions which work to combine seeds, seed-applied technologies, plant-breeding technology, agronomy advice, precision farming and digital solutions.
CAP is not only about money
Joanna Dupont-Inglis, secretary-general for the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio), told EURACTIV that the conversation around the CAP has previously often been “limited” to discussions surrounding the provision of financial support to farmers.
She hopes to see EU decision-makers giving much more consideration to developing pro-innovation policy frameworks that can spur sustainability in farming to the benefit of farmers, citizens and the environment alike, adding that the adoption of modern farming methods, like the application of agricultural biotechnology, can “do a lot to contribute to the new Green Deal objectives, including the reduction of the use of pesticides” but only if policymakers allow it to.
When asked about her hopes for the Commission’s Green Deal, Dupont-Inglis said that she hoped the Commission will “do more to deliver practical and science-based rules for products resulting from agricultural biotechnology,” particularly highlighting the importance of the Commission removing “scientifically unjustified regulatory requirements for GM crops.”
Dupont-Inglis said that agricultural biotechnology has “already contributed tremendously towards achieving sustainable development goals and improving people’s lives in many parts of the world” but that “unfortunately the current regulatory framework in the EU is not conducive to allowing farmers to adopt these or any advanced breeding methods.”
Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General of the EU farmers and cooperatives’ association (Copa-Cogeca), told EURACTIV that, although the Commission did not yet give any specific targets in pesticide, fertiliser or antibiotics use, he expects that these will be in the actual legal proposals, in one way or another, later this coming year.
He highlighted that the Commission “did not specify for instance New Breeding Techniques as one particular solution to pest and disease or environmental improvement” but that he expects that the EU must make a decision on this.
“We will be confronted by our international trading partners and the Commission, together with the Member States, must eventually ensure tools to combat the phenomena of pest and disease,” he said.
There is an ongoing debate in Europe about the regulatory future of gene editing. The issue heated up in 2018 after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that organisms obtained by new plant breeding techniques (NBTs) should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.
Following the controversial court decision, the EU member states requested a study from the Commission to clarify the situation. Environmentalists, though, strongly disagree with these new techniques, describing them as “new GMOs”.
They also accuse the agri-food industry of trying to bring them to Europe through the back door and have hailed the court decision.
Pesonen added that the Commission “must provide alternatives for farmers,” particularly if there is a ban on certain techniques or active substances, but that how this will be done in practice in the legislative process remains to be seen.
The precision farming challenge
Another topic that is considered of vital importance for the industry and farmers is the rapid introduction of precision farming technologies in the agricultural sector.
Based on the concept “produce more with less”, precision farming tools such as sensors or drones, aim to focus on the slightest detail of a farm.
Contrary to traditional farming, in which spraying pesticides, for instance, was applied to the entire field, precision farming helps map the real needs of each parcel and spray pesticides accordingly.
It is hoped that these technologies will help increase yields or reduce production costs in the long term, but also help farmers better meet new, more stringent environmental requirements.
However, it’s still unclear how this will practically be applied in the new CAP, considering that the new delivery model basically throws the ball to the member states court to “go digital”.
Edited by Samuel Stolton