Brussels, 24 June 2004
As the world’s population will grow from 6 to 9 billion over the next 50 years, and fossil resources will diminish, the need for food, “bio-fuels” and “bio-materials” from renewable, plant-based resources will increase. A report presented in Brussels today highlights how advances in plant genomics and biotechnology can help Europe to address these challenges, for instance with stress-resistant plants. Leading representatives from research, the food and biotech industry, the farming community and consumers’ organisations presented to European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin a long-term vision for European plant biotechnology towards 2025. The paper identifies three priorities: to produce more affordable, healthy and better quality food products; encourage environmental and agricultural sustainability; and enhance competitiveness in European agriculture, industry and forestry. Stakeholders and policymakers will participate in the new technology platform on plant biotechnology to deliver a strategic research agenda by the end of the year.
"Despite Europe having been at the forefront of plant science and biotechnology, its leading position has drastically deteriorated in recent years, due to public concerns over the impact of these technologies, insufficient communication of the benefits of this technology to the public, and lack of strategic research programmes as compared to our competitors,” said Philippe Busquin. “This is alarming in view of the challenges Europe is facing: providing a growing world population with more healthy foodstuffs in a sustainable way and replacing fossil-based materials with new, environmentally sound bio-materials made from renewable plant resources".
While US biotech firms spend €650 million a year on R&D, their EU counterparts invest only €400 million. Last year, the American government launched a National Plant Genome Initiative with a total budget of €1.1 billion from 2003 to 2008. EU15 support is estimated to be around €80 million annually.
Towards a sustainable bio-economy
Agricultural production accounts for 17 million farms in Europe and 8% of the EU-25 workforce, while the agro-food industry has a €600 billion annual turnover. The vision paper highlights the role biotechnology and genomics can play in helping the EU move to a knowledge based bio-economy that uses renewable plant resources.
New stress-resistant plants will be capable of increased agricultural productivity, despite increased seasonal instabilities and climate change, while also requiring less fertiliser, pesticide and water. The research agenda can also increase genetic diversity of plant crops, and boost the development of “green” materials, including bio-fuels.
The vision paper calls for a European technology platform on plant biotechnology research aimed at: