Modern agriculture has to face numerous challenges that can be addressed only through sustainable development. Current challenges include the continuous growth of the world population, and the preservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Plant breeding innovations, new technologies, and scientific advances can successfully address these issues.
1. Euroseeds: A key player in the European food sector
Counting more than 34 member associations and 7 direct company members, Euroseeds represents the entire European seed sector, including businesses active in research, breeding, production and marketing of seeds. Its mission is to contribute to the implementation of fair and proportionate regulation of the European seed sector, engaging with all relevant European decision makers. Euroseeds is active on a number of key issues, such as food security, food quality and health, jobs and growth, biodiversity and environmental protection, and sustainability. Euroseeds works closely with its members to ensure that the issues are addressed at the European level.
2. How can plant breeding contribute to the green transition?
Today, Euroseeds hosted a webinar in the framework of the 6th edition of the EPP European Congress of Young Farmers. The webinar provided an overview on breeding targets in public and private research, and analyzed whether they are in line with the sustainability objectives included in the EU’s Green Deal and Farm-to-Fork Strategy. Three speakers addressed these issues: Garlich von Essen (Secretary General of Euroseeds), Herbert Dorfmann (MEP and Rapporteur on the Farm to Fork Strategy), and Jannes Maes (President of CEJA).
The Farm-to-Fork (F2F) strategy proposed by the European commission focuses on the transition to a fair, sustainable, healthy and environmentally friendly food system in Europe. Von Essen explained that innovation in plant breeding is a process, and not something that comes along new. “We have always improved the way we develop new plant varieties. It is a continuous story of progress and success,” he said.
The public and private sectors are currently focusing on goals directly linked to environmental sustainability and aligned with the F2F strategy. These objectives include food quality, agronomic values, biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, and herbicide tolerance. Despite the huge potential and the increasing interest for plant breeding innovations (PBI), the current EU legislation makes it practically impossible for companies to benefit from it. PBI require large investments that most EU’s SMEs cannot afford. According to Von Essen, the EU has to make sure that PBI can be used by all European farmers and change its legislation accordingly.
“Europe needs to do something. The F2F strategy will not be achieved automatically. It requires investments, not only, but specifically in plant breeding. We need to have new tools, new knowledge, we have to be smart. (…) We cannot do that if we rely only on the means of the past,” said Von Essen.
Due to the current EU’s regulatory framework, public research went out of the PBI field and left it to big multinationals. But a successful transition can be achieved only if everybody is involved in the process. “We need to keep everybody in plant breeding: public research, big companies and small companies,” declared Herbert Dorfmann.
Dorfmann stressed once again on the importance of sustainability as a new market trend. Nowadays, if products do not have an element of sustainability, they are not considered high-quality products. “Today each product of high-quality level has a promise of sustainability. Sustainability is part of the business of the future,” he added.
According to Jannes Maes, new breeding techniques must be part of the toolbox provided to EU’ young farmers. PBI should not be open only to big companies, but especially to SMEs and public research. If the EU does not act quickly, young farmers will be in disadvantage compared to other parts of the world that are embracing new PBI.
“If we are not allowed to use techniques which other part of the world use, then we won’t have a fair-trade situation anymore,” he said.
Farmers have to react to market signals and to get engaged with the whole food chain. “Our most favorite economic return comes from the market, because that’s what we do: We run a business,” stressed Maes. According to Maes, supporting policies play a huge role in this sense: “Engage consumers, engage processes and facilities, engage retailers and then farmers will be engaged.”
3. Future scenarios: Will the Commission abandon its skepticism?
Will the European Commission and the public opinion understand the contribution that PBI can bring to sustainability? Something at EU level is changing. Unlike in the past, there is a great number of stakeholders that are supporting plant breeding innovations and are speaking up for these technologies to become accessible to EU farmers. Now the sector can rely on a broad support from many different actors that see potential in these technologies. The most positive signals come from environmental NGOs, action groups, and political parties that are less skeptical and are changing their views. But there is one organization that has to be convinced yet: The European Commission.