The U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany, hosted a webinar on September 14, 2022, which brought together more than 100 European and American participants on the topic of « Greening Agriculture through Innovation. » Agridées was invited to present the proposals of its position paper « Agriculture: Reconciling Economic Profitability and Climate Action » for accelerating R&D and innovation, along with two other experts: Tobias Brügmann (Thuenen Institute of Forest Genetics) and Christian Kaiser (Progressive Agrarwende). Amy Gutmann, U.S. Ambassador to Berlin, opened the event and Kimberly Sawatzki, U.S. Agricultural Attaché in Berlin, concluded the discussions, adding a strategic and political perspective. The take away messages of this event were the following:
Challenges for agriculture and forestry are piling up, from food security to climate change, biodiversity erosion, One Health, and societal expectations.
To address these challenges, innovation is a key lever, particularly in terms of plant breeding and more specifically with the help of biotechnology. It addresses to the need for resilience in the face of extreme climatic events (heat waves and drought in particular) that are becoming more frequent and intense. Field crops, grapevines, fruit trees and forest trees are among the first to be affected.
On the other hand, plant breeding can contribute to carbon farming by improving nitrogen-use efficiency (to reduce emissions of nitrous oxide – N2O – emissions, which is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions from field crops) and by stimulating root development (to store more organic carbon in the soil).
In addition, resistance to pathogens and pests is already reducing the dependence of crops on synthetic chemical plant health products and must be accelerated through breeding. Finally, improving the nutritional qualities of plants through breeding contributes to food safety.
In Europe, the main obstacles to innovation in plant breeding using modern techniques remain societal perception, which doubts they are useful and safety, and regulation, which continues to be restrictive for genetically modified crops. Indeed, since 2018, gene-edited plants have been considered as GMOs according to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
With the Covid-19 pandemics and the war in Ukraine, Europe’s food and energy security is emerging as a top strategic priority on the political agenda of the European Union. Similarly, scientific facts have become more prominent in societal debates, where climate scientists and human health experts are now used to speaking out and are more respected. These developments should be favorable to more flexible European positions on modern plant breeding techniques. The legislation should evolve in the next few years. It is not too late and a certain number of stakeholders in the industry seem ready to take up the subject, with the necessary precautions…