It is the European Landowners’ Organization (ELO) belief that without innovation, the European farmers will not be able to face increased climate-related stresses along with the decreasing amount of available plant protection products. New developments in seed breeding could be essential tools for facing both challenges.
Even before the European Court of Justice’s decision to classify new genomic techniques (NGTs) as GMOs in 2018, the ELO has been stressing to policymakers the utmost importance of science- and fact-based assessments of innovative technologies for agriculture. The precautionary principle should not be invoked in the name of beliefs and fears but rather only when there exist established uncertainties regarding a technology. Instead of a consistent hazard-based approach to gene-editing, ELO has been arguing in favor of a risk-based approach.
Upon the request from EU ministers, health Commissioner Stella KYRIAKIDES instructed The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as well as the Joint Research Centre to conduct a study on NGTs, foreseen for spring 2021. The study mainly aims at clarifying the Court ruling of 2018. EFSA, in charge of assessing risks to health and environment of plants developed through these techniques, quickly concluded that NGTs do not pose any additional hazards compared to conventional breeding and GMOs. Therefore, the existing guidelines for the evaluation of their safety are adequate. This is in line with what ELO, as well as the vast majority of researchers and academics have been arguing. Once the full study will be published in 2021, ELO will continue to advocate for a new distinct directive for NGTs so that these do not meet the same fate as GMOs.
ELO has also voiced its concerns regarding the lack of access to innovation in seeds in organic farming. The organic label and its requirements restrict considerably the use of innovative tools for farmers such as NGTs. It is important that if organic farming is to be chosen as the practice of predilection by the EC, the requirements for obtaining the organic label are made flexible enough to evolve along with the innovative methods and varieties developed by the EU.
The EC will publish in early 2021 the list of initiatives and proposals as part of the 2020 Horizon for innovation in agriculture. This will be the opportunity for ELO to flag what are the credible projects for farmers and to better define the type of innovations farmers need most urgently.
ELO believes strongly that only continuous innovation in the agricultural sector can deliver the results needed for Europe’s land managers; a flourishing farm business at a time of climate change and unstable markets, better results for our ecosystems, and plenty of safe food for Europe’s demanding consumers.
To meet these challenges, the modern farm business should not just embrace the latest tools and technologies, but also work out his or her own innovate practices. This quest, therefore, does not just take place in the laboratories of agricultural industries, but very much in the fields of our members.
Over the last few years, the EU has shown increased support to integrate the concept of innovation into European policy. The new CAP has funds additionally reserved for agricultural innovation, which is most welcome, and we welcome the investment that is planned for the Green New Deal that will help farmers utilize technology to achieve sustainability.
In 2019, ELO continued to push for more and better access to agricultural innovation. We continued to push for broad access to plant breeding innovation tools and urged the institutions to come together and revise the current Directive on GM, a necessary step in allowing these tools to be used safely by our members.
In 2020, we will therefore push the new European Parliament and Commission to employ the legal and political tools that will clarify the ambiguities left by the ECJ decision and to create as broad a field as is legally possible for these tools to be used in Europe.