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IP/03/1807

Brussels, 22 December 2003

10 million euro for a new EU Programme to promote biological and genetic diversity

Today, the European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Regulation for a second EU programme for the conservation, characterisation, collection and use of genetic resources in agriculture. The new programme, covering the period 2004-2006, will promote genetic diversity and the exchange of information including close co-ordination between Member States and between the Member States and the European Commission for the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources in agriculture. It will also facilitate co-ordination in the field of international undertakings on genetic resources. The budget allocated to this programme amounts to €10 million.

"Biological and genetic diversity in agriculture is essential for the sustainable development of agricultural production and of rural areas. This new Community programme will contribute to maintaining this biological diversity and to improving the quality of our agricultural products as well as promoting the diversification in rural areas and the reduction of inputs and agricultural production costs", said Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries.

Why promote genetic diversity?

When the genetic diversity of crops and breeds diminishes and genes are lost, this can lead to a higher susceptibility to diseases and stress factors. It can also lead to a loss of genes which allow the crop or breed to adapt itself to specific local growth conditions. A sustainable, low input agriculture needs crops and breeds with a capacity to adapt themselves to local climatic and soil conditions, with variation in resistances and tolerances against pests. So, sustainable agriculture needs a highly diverse gene pool and if agriculture is to produce high added value produce, it needs genes with good organoleptic characteristics and optimal transformation quality. For these reasons it is important to preserve genetic resources in agriculture.

The new EU programme

The new EU programme is to finance measures to promote the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of plant, animal and microbial genetic resources in agriculture, including on-farm management of genetic resources. It would foster a wider coverage of plant and animal diversity and would also complement the work undertaken in the Member States in this field. It would in particular support the development of new trans-border initiatives and prevent duplication of activities.

The programme will consist of targeted actions, concerted actions and accompanying actions. An example of a targeted action would be the development of decentralised, permanent and widely accessible web-based inventories collecting knowledge on the genetic resources of crops and breeds available in the EU, their origins and their characteristics. This information could be made available at European and international level. This could be the case for ex situ collections(1) held in European gene banks, but also for all kinds of genetic resources conserved and cultivated on-farm or in the wild (in-situ).

Another example of a targeted action is the characterisation and the evaluation of useful characters of the existing genetic material in order to eliminate duplicates in the collections, to add missing material and to discern valuable characters for further breeding and utilisation.

Smaller, so called concerted and accompanying actions would facilitate the exchange of thematic issues for the purpose of improving co-ordination functions and programmes and the organisation of seminars, technical conferences, meetings with NGOs and other relevant stakeholders, training courses and the preparation of technical reports. The proposal calls for an effective information exchange and close co-ordination between the EU's main actors in this field and with the relevant organisations throughout the world. The estimated overall cost for the EU budget of this new Community programme amounts to €10 million for the period 2004-2006. The maximum contribution of the Community depends on the kind of action and is 50 % or 80%. Partners from the new Member States are allowed to participate fully. Two calls for actions are foreseen for the transnational targeted actions, one in 2004 and the second in 2006. A Management Committee will assist the Commission in the implementation of the programme.

Background

In 1994 a Council Regulation(2) on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture launched a five-year Community programme, which ended on 31 December 1999. The main actions carried out on the basis of that programme were the co-ordination of Member States' extensive and essential activities undertaken with the FAO(3) and the adoption of 21 projects involving a total of €10 million including one forestry project (elms), 6 projects for crop genetic resources (for example, barley, oats, cabbages, rice, potatoes, beets, olives) and 4 projects for animal genetic resources (pigs, cattle, rabbits). Most of these projects, in particular those about plants, dealt with material available in gene banks and they enabled the partners from the Member States to make an inventory, morphological descriptions and an evaluation of the useful characteristics. Also collection of missing material was undertaken. Almost half of these 21 projects are ongoing today. The new regulation is in line with the recommendations of an independent Expert Group that made a positive evaluation report on the implementation of the first programme and that formulated recommendations for a new Programme. Also, in its strategy for the integration of environment and sustainable development into the CAP(4), the Council called for the elaboration of a new Community programme on genetic resources in agriculture.

(1) ex situ collection means a collection of genetic material for agriculture maintained outside their natural habitat;

(2)Council Regulation (EC) No 1467/94 of 20 June 1994, OJ L 159, 28.6.1994, p. 1.

(3) United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation

(4) Document No 13078/99 of 15.11.1999


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