Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy
Innovation needs to be in tune with the broad values of society
Meeting with board members of CROPLIFE International
Brussels, 30 March 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have gladly accepted your invitation to meet with you, representatives of many important companies.
Important because you represent a sector of innovation which has important consequences on the lives of the citizens of Europe.
Innovation is one of the principle drivers for the European Union as it is through innovation that Europe remains relevant in the global order with an economic base that is competitive as it remains at the cutting edge of progress and development.
Innovation creates economic activity, resulting in jobs for our workers and the delivery of goods and services which should be making a difference in the quality of life of our citizens.
The raison d'être of innovation is the benefit that it provides to humanity.
Innovation cannot take place in a bubble closed to the wider world. It needs to be in tune with the broad values of society. It needs to be responsible innovation.
My responsibilities as Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy cover many issues with responsible innovation at their core – including plant protection products and genetically modified organisms, which are of particular interest to this audience.
Let me take each of these issues separately.
Plant Protection Products
Plant Protection Products play a very important role in the agricultural, horticultural and forestry industries.
Efficient and innovative plant protection is one of the key factors in producing safe and healthy food at a reasonable price. This is to the benefit of consumers, farmers and industry across Europe.
However, plant protection products can, of course, have a negative impact on human health, on animal health and on the environment.
The new legislation on plant protection products is an initiative which seeks to better combine efficient protection of human health and the environment with the efficient supply of high quality food. It also seeks to ensure an economic balance for industry and farmers.
These are the pillars upon which stands the concept of the sustainable use of pesticides.
One of my objectives for the years to come is to ensure that technologies – and I mean in particular new technologies – can demonstrate a benefit both for consumers and for users. And it is with a purpose that I mention the consumers first!
It is clear that society will only accept new technologies when their benefits, or potential benefits, are visible and clearly communicated.
The new European legislation on plant protection products draws on this principle by asking you as producers to demonstrate the benefits of the substances you develop and sell.
I recognise that the Regulation is ambitious and that it poses challenges for you as developers and producers of pesticides, as well as for regulators in the Member States, and for pesticide users.
I believe that the EU has taken a bold and decisive step in the global race to develop new processes and technologies, by encouraging the development of safer plant protection products for a more responsible and more sustainable European agriculture.
Innovation and sustainability go hand in hand.
Innovation needs considerable investment. We acknowledge from the recently provided study on development costs between 1995 and 2005 that the costs of product development and registration increased by 68% within that period, and that it has become increasingly difficult to find new molecules which meet the high standards we demand.
But the price is worth the effort. The new legislation encourages, gradually and progressively, the substitution of outdated chemicals by newer and safer products.
The strict deadlines for the evaluation process in the new legislation will oblige you to make a commitment to those substances you wish to keep or place on the market.
But it will also provide predictability for your planning and quicker market access across the EU.
These deadlines promote a more regular "global work-sharing" in the evaluation of active substances – which can only be a good thing for your industry.
It will allow you to avoid duplication of work and to benefit from synergies of company branches working in different parts of the world.
I invite you to work together with us on the further steps we need to take in order to achieve the objectives of the legislation – which reflect the wishes of European citizens.
Let me turn now to Genetically Modified Organisms. Much of what I have said about pesticides applies here too.
The most effective way to take advantage of the potential of GM technology is to follow an approach based on responsible innovation, safety assessments and taking into account other legitimate factors.
The authorisation of the GM potato and the wide reactions it sparked all around Europe indicate that GMOs – and particularly GMOs for cultivation – remain a highly sensitive issue.
But there is a great deal that you, the industry, can do to ease the debate in the EU, with a view to improving the image of GM technology.
I expect you, the industry to discuss with us, the Commission, a long-term viable, coherent and responsible approach to GMOs.
In particular, I see four areas where I expect your full co-operation in the coming years:
First, the complete phase-out of antibiotic resistant marker genes. I know that biotech companies are already committed to achieving this. A clear unambiguous line of communication in this respect is crucial.
Second, I would like to stress the importance of monitoring in order to ensure that the possible effects on health and the environment and changes of GM crops are fully catalogued and understood. This will provide proper feedback to our scientists so that they are able to perfect their assessments. In this context I also expect a fully transparent approach to each individual dossier. This means:
immediate submission of any relevant information (positive and negative) to the Commission or to EFSA without hiding any information; and
limitation of confidentiality status to information which has genuine commercial value.
A third crucial element must be improving the focus on a "holistic approach" of GM products for European citizens.
The risk assessment will certainly remain the starting point of our authorisation procedure, but I want the potential advantages and disadvantages for society to be fully considered and explored at the initial stages.
Biotech companies should view this as an opportunity to improve their communication on the quality of their products and the potential of the technology, as well as to facilitate an understanding by the whole of society of all the implications of GMOs.
Finally, there is the implementation of President Barroso's political guidelines on the cultivation of GMOs.
I fully agree with the President that the best way to avoid deadlock in the authorisation of GMOs for cultivation is to combine a science-based European authorisation system with the freedom for Member States to decide whether or not they want to grow GMOs on their territory.
The implementation of this approach is a priority for me and I am committed to proposing a way forward. My services are already working on a range of options.
I expect the industry, as well as all other stakeholders, to be part of this debate. And being part of this discussion means that the industry must accept, both politically and legally, this approach as the basis of future Commission policy on the authorisation of GM crops for cultivation.
I started my mandate showing that the Commission will not cower from its responsibilities and that it can deliver on innovation.
I have every intention to promote a balanced approach, that will give the European citizen peace of mind and that will enable biotech companies to push the innovation drive.
I look forward to productive and mutually-supportive relations with you in the years to come.