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New challenges for Food and Agriculture Research

Euragri conference: "Science for Society - Science with Society", Brussels.

 

Brussels, 15 October 2002

Key words : stakeholders, dialogue, citizens, competitiveness, GMOs

 


The changing attitude of European society to research in food and agriculture demands that researchers pay more attention to the concerns of the public and other stakeholders. The Euragri conference entitled "Science for Society - Science with Society", organised in association with the European Commission, examined these issues and proposed new goals, new roles and new rules to enable European research for food and agriculture to respond to the needs and concerns of society.

Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin called for the establishment of a European platform on plant sciences through the networking of national research programmes. He said: "New technologies, that can bring real benefits to citizens and improve the competitiveness of European agriculture, should not be discarded through ignorance and prejudice. Instead we must work to balance governance and freedom of research to allow the advance of science, and adopt a level-headed approach to evaluate the risks, costs and benefits of each new development. Europe has huge potential in the area of plant sciences which can be harnessed through the European Research Area."

The attitude of European society to research in food and agriculture is changing. Citizens demand safer and healthier food, quality rather than quantity, the right to know and chose where their food comes from and more ethical treatment of farm animals. Recent controversies and concerns have amplified the attention paid to agricultural research and the origins of food products. The research community and regulatory authorities must take this into account in their approach to determining and implementing research strategy. Foremost, there is a critical need for more dialogue between the various stakeholders, in particular between the researchers and the general public. The former need to pay more attention to the concerns and sensitivities of citizens, while the latter must pay attention to the economic stakes and to the benefits of new agricultural technologies.

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is a case in point. The use and development of genetically modified crops is increasing in many countries world-wide, but in Europe they are subject to increasingly stringent regulation, for example through the new Directive on the deliberate release of GMOs (2001/18/EC) that enters into force on 17 October 2002. Nevertheless, their use remains controversial and subject to criticism. Several GMO research field trials have been vandalised over the last months across Europe. Such attitudes have contributed to the relocation of industrial GMO research facilities to less hostile shores, which is a cause of great concern for European competitiveness. Agricultural production in the EU represents €220 billion a year and 7.5 million jobs, with an additional €600 billion and 2.6 million jobs in the food industry.

Philippe Busquin, for his part, insists that an open, science-based dialogue is indispensable between all stakeholders for and against GMOs. To promote this process the Commission hosted roundtable meetings on GMO safety research bringing together European bio-safety researchers and other stakeholders, such as consumer organisations, environmental NGOs, national administrations and industry. That way the Commission seeks to raise the voice of science in the GMO debate by establishing an on-going discussion forum on the research results relating to the benefits and risks of GMOs. Over 15 years, the Commission has been supporting 81 bio-safety research projects for a total EC funding of €70 million. Together, the projects involved over 400 teams from all parts of Europe.

Beyond overcoming these barriers to progress, the implementation of the European Research Area to link national research programmes offers an opportunity to leverage the vast amount of expertise available throughout Europe. Commissioner Busquin calls for such a European platform on plant science to be formed.

The forthcoming Sixth Framework programme provides concrete tools to implement such an approach and, in particular, ERA-NET, a specific instrument to encourage and support networking and opening up of national research programmes. In addition, considerable resources have been allocated to the priority of "Food quality and safety" with €685 million over the four years of the programme. The new possibilities in this sector will be detailed at the launch conference in Brussels on 11-13 November 2002.

Additional sources:

Commissioner Busquin underlined the growing unbalance between the EU investments in R&D, and those of the United States and Japan. The gap between these efforts is in the order of 80 billion euros a year and it is growing rapidly, hampering the innovation potential of the European economy and its prospects for long term competitiveness and growth. If this trend is not reversed quickly, it risks compromising EU drive to meet the objectives set at the Lisbon European Council. Hence the key policy aim adopted by the Barcelona European Council, to devote 3 % of GDP to R&D. (see IP/02/290 for a more detailed analysis).

For further media information:

  • Stéphane Hogan, Press Officer, Information and Communication Unit, DG research, european commission
    Tel.: +32.2.296.2965 - Fax: +32.2.295.8220 - E-mail: Research Contact

For interviews with Commissioner Busquin, please contact:

  • Fabio Fabbi, Spokesman for Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, DG Press, european commission
    Tel.: + 32 2 296.41.74 - E-mail: Fabio.Fabbi@ec.europa.eu


              

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