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Headlines Published on 13 July 2005

Title Technology platform sows the seeds for a knowledge-based bio-economy

The EU-backed Plants for the Future Technology Platform released, last week, its Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) which signposts a route for Europe to make the most of plant sciences and biotechnology to enhance the EU competitiveness and help fulfil its social goals.

“Plants for the Future is an impressive demonstration of how working together can build competitiveness.” Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik © Plants for the Future
“Plants for the Future is an impressive demonstration of how working together can build competitiveness.” Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik
© Plants for the Future
The launch took place on Tuesday 5 July in Strasbourg (FR) and was attended by Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik, MEP Giles Chichester, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, high level representatives of platform stakeholders, as well as members of the press.

“Plants for the Future is an impressive demonstration of how working together can build competitiveness,” Mr Potočnik said during the event. “Plant genomics and biotechnology, as outlined in the Strategic Research Agenda… will play a major role in ensuring [the] sustainability of our economy through renewable biological resources.”

As a reflection of this importance, nearly 300 stakeholders – representing scientific community, industry, consumer groups, and policy-makers – from 30 countries took part in the drafting of this forward-looking document.

However, the significance of this sector, as the Platform itself acknowledges, is not always immediately apparent. “Surely plants are to do with the countryside or the garden or the forest, not part of the avant-garde of technological progress,” the authors of the SRA assert rhetorically.

“Plants have helped humanity blossom, and they will be every bit as essential in the future,” they note, pointing to the fact that plants form the basis of European industries with an annual turnover of more than €1 trillion, and this bio-economy is set to grow as the plant sciences open new doors of understanding that are set to find applications in agriculture, medicine, biofuels, and biomaterials, such as biodegradable plastics.

The release of the Plants for the Future report coincided with the launch of a related Technology Platform called Food for Life, which brings together representatives of the European food and drink industry. Plants for the Future plans to co-operate closely with this Platform and others, including the Sustainable Chemistry, Forestry, and Innovative Medicines Platforms.

Technology Platforms are an important weapon in the Commission’s competitiveness arsenal and were set up to chart the strategic R&D path ahead for key European industries. “Platforms … represent a powerful mobilising force,” Mr Potočnik told industry leaders at a recent seminar. “They can build the necessary scale of effort to achieve the major advances in research and development. Europe's growth and competitiveness depend on them,”

Roots of the challenge
The document released last week not only outlines an SRA for the next 20 years until 2025, it also contains a detailed Draft Action Plan for the next five (2006-2010). The SRA addresses four key challenges:

  • Challenge one: Healthy, safe and sufficient food and feed
  • Challenge two: Sustainable agriculture, forestry and landscape
  • Challenge three: Green products
  • Challenge four: Competitiveness, consumer choice and governance
For each challenge, it examines the key issues related to it and sets out a detailed set of goals and deliverables, including timelines, to address them. For example, goal one of challenge one is to ‘develop and produce safe and high-quality food’. Deliverables over the next five years include identifying the molecular components of food that determine its shelf life.

Only part one – a general summary and overview – was released last week. The detailed SRA and the Draft Action Plan will be launched in the coming weeks. This stakeholder proposal will then move on to its consultation phase – involving Member States and other stakeholders – which will last until the end of 2005. The final version of the Strategic Research Agenda 2006-2025 and the Draft Action Plan 2006-2010 will be available in mid-2006.

The Plants for the Future Technology Platform was launched by former Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin in June 2004 when it released its special report on the future of plant genomics and its applications in Europe which was entitled ‘2025: a vision for plant genomics and biotechnology’.

Source:  Plants for the Future, European Commission

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