The results of the survey allow for the following conclusions:
- There is a large variety of constraints in many of the crops and trees cultivated in Europe that limit the potential to move towards sustainable agriculture and the full use of renewable resources within the bioeconomy. These constraints include an expanding range of pests and diseases, and stress factors such as drought and flooding, as well as the need to increase yields on the same land acreage with lower inputs.
- These constraints can result in, among other things, significant losses of crop yield.
- Current practices to address these constraints include substantial use of insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, bactericides, fertilisers, ploughing, irrigation, as well as the use of chemicals, energy and water during production of agricultural chemicals and during farming operations. Yield losses in the EU mean increased imports from third countries, leading in these countries to higher prices and lower local supplies. Already today, the EU has a considerable extra-territorial footprint in the agricultural systems of third countries.
- The options for conventional breeding to address these constraints are often limited, sometimes absent or can take a very long time to produce results.
- Biotechnological tools that can help overcome many of these constraints are already available or in advanced stage of development.
- In countries where approved GM crops were grown commercially, various studies confirm that, while the impacts may vary from case to case, overall anticipated environmental, human health, social and economic benefits have been realised.
- Research conducted at the University of Reading shows that if farmers in the EU had access to the same GM crops to which millions of farmers outside the EU have access, the European farming community could annually increase its income by more than 400 Million Euro (reference).
- Research conducted by the Technische Universität München in 3 EU countries shows that as a result of national bans on EU approved GM crops farmers in some EU countries are deprived from an additional tool that could help them reduce pesticide use and increase yield and income (reference).
- The above studies came to these conclusions while only looking at the GM crops that are currently available. The potential for additional environmental and socio-economic benefits will increase multifold when taking into consideration other crops and constraints such as other diseases, pests, drought, flooding, and other characteristics that are important for biofuels, biocoatings, composition and morphology. Agricultural biotechnology is still a young technology but the field is rapidly developing.
- In all the countries in which the survey was conducted there are farmers who wish to have the freedom to grow the crops they find best suited for their needs, including GM crops that have been approved through the EU regulatory system. Increasingly, these farmers are getting organised on the national and EU level.
- It is also clear from the survey that farmers are sometimes hesitant to use approved GM crops, because of the additional administrative burden, and/or fear that their crops may be destroyed.
- Much public sector research in agricultural biotechnology in Europe has been slowed, stopped or moved abroad, because of increasing regulatory hurdles and costs to prevent destruction of field research.
- As was emphasised in a recent G20 statement, governments and EU institutions are urged t target R&D programmes on key constraints in agricultural production
- Research institutes and farmers organisations are called upon to collaborate in further developing the survey database of crops, constraints, and biotechnological approaches, to facilitate exchange of information and experiences.
- Governments and EU institutions are urged to implement the current regulatory system in th way they themselves designed it, i.e. science based, transparent, predictable and with respect for legal time frames and the legal criteria for decision making, and upholding the freedom of choice for farmers.
- Research institutes, and farmers’ organisations are called upon to engage with the general public and policy makers in a dialogue about the current urgent challenges in agricultural production, and of the role that modern biotechnology can play in helping to find solutions for the current challenges
- There is a need for increased and regular participation by European farmers and farmers’ organisations in the national and EU-wide dialogues regarding the regulatory framework for GMOs. This would contribute to a better-informed debate, particularly regarding the practical experiences with regulatory procedures for commercial cultivation, notifications, co-existence measures, and the like. It would also help the debate on actual socio economic and environmental impacts from GMO cultivation.
- Similarly, public-sector scientists should have a continued and more prominent role in current and future discussions on biotechnology in the EU. Our survey has demonstrated the range of “second generation” traits under investigation in public sector research organization and universities – going well beyond insect resistance and herbicide tolerance – all of which could have a major positive impact on farming practices, and food quality and safety. As the EU wishes to move towards a “Knowledge Based Bio-Economy”, this type of advanced research should be actively supported.