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Europe

"Plants for the Future" – Research Agenda 2025


A new, strategic research plan for the development of new crops and cultivars is set to secure the competitiveness of European agriculture over the next 20 years. The research plan is the product of consultations with 290 stakeholders representing industry, agriculture, and the environment. In Strasburg, The European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO), the European Commission, and the European Association for Bioindustries (EuropaBio) presented the plan entitled “Plants for the Future: A European Vision for Plant Genomics and Biotechnology, 2025”. The document recommends using genetic engineering to achieve some of its goals.

"Plants for the Future" is a stakeholder forum on plant genomics and biotechnology initiated by the European Commission.

The challenge: Competitiveness and cutting-edge research

Plants are the foundation of Europe’s 600 billion euro agriculture, food, and feed industry. “Plants for the Future” claims that the only way to keep this industry innovative and competitive is putting Europe’s knowledge base in the field of plant science into practice. If this is done effectively, Europe can become the world’s centre for state-of-the-art plant science research and home to the most innovative companies in the agro-industry. Even global trends like population growth, climate change, an aging demographic in western society, as well as shifting consumer attitudes are constantly placing new demands on plant breeding that need to be addressed.

The strategy: Four pillars for the agriculture of the future

According to the opinions of the authors of “Plants for the Future”, biotechnology and genomics are the most promising tools for addressing new agricultural challenges. The ultimate vision of the plan is a sustainable, resource-conserving, and highly innovative “bio-based economy”. "Plants for the future” centres around four essential principles.

  • The production of safe, high-quality food and feed in sufficient quantities
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • The development of plants for the production of renewable resources and energy
  • Increasing competitiveness while maintaining the freedom of choice for consumers

Food

The plan calls for the breeding of improved food crops. These foods could have more antioxidants, vitamins, or minerals or an optimised fatty acid composition. Some of these crops could be important in the fight against what are known as “rich world diseases” like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and certain forms of cancer. Some examples:

  • Crops used for producing "low-glycemic food". Such foods would contain carbohydrates that break down more slowly in the body’s metabolism. These would be helpful for diabetics.
  • Carotenoid-enriched foods, which could prevent age-related macular degeneration of the retina.
  • Foods containing more polyunsaturated fatty acids, which could ward off heart disease.

 

Soybeans: Currently the most important protein-rich animal feedstuff in Europe

Animal feed

Over 40 million tonnes of soybeans are imported into the EU every year, mostly to make up for a lack of protein in European animal feed. Because Europe is poorly suited to growing soybeans, the EU would need protein-enriched cultivars of cereals, legumes, or rapeseed in order to be self-sufficient.

Another aspect of feed production that needs improvement is the presence of mycotoxins in cereals. Mycotoxins are produced by moulds and by several fungal diseases that infect cereal grains. According to the Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations (FAO), mycotoxins account for approximately one billion dollars in yield losses annually. Additionally, latent mycotoxin stress from infected feed can compromise the health and quality of livestock.

Renewable resources

Modern plant biotechnology is considered the key to what is known as a "bio-based economy". In such a scenario, agriculture is used not only for producing food and feed, but also as a major source of energy and renewable raw materials. This system takes advantage of microorganisms and enzymes for producing raw materials such as carbohydrates, fatty acids, and fibres in energy- and resource-conserving industrial systems. The ultimate objective of this approach is to replace fossil fuels with renewable biomass optimised using biotechnological methods. Such a system would drastically reduce worldwide CO2 emissions by an estimated 180 million tonnes per year. According to the research plan, the value added to the chemical industry alone would total 22 billion euro. This could be a huge job creator in fields like agriculture, processing industries, and trade.

Diversity in agriculture

The plan makes note of the need to preserve and enrich cultivar diversity as a step toward conserving biodiversity in European agriculture. Also of importance is reducing the use of pesticides and other substances, and at the same time improving plant defence against drought, pests, and diseases. Given these considerations, the plan strives to develop advanced agricultural systems that take into account the preservation of nature and the environment.

A demand for dialogue: Input taken from a broad spectrum of stakeholders

Input for the 20 year research plan was provided by 290 representatives from scientific institutions, industry, agriculture, politics, capital market, regulatory agencies, consumer groups, and environmental organisations from a total of 30 different countries. The EU-Commissioner for Science and Research, Janez Potočnik, lauded the project stating, “this joint effort of all those involved in the agricultural production chain to identify and take into account scientific and technological potential, market drivers and consumer demand can only be positive for the future of the agricultural sector.”

 

 


An EU Research Project

What are the risks of growing GM crops?

What are the benefits?

Numerous studies have addressed the potential impacts of genetically modified (GM) plants. Yet the existing evidence on the effects of GM plants is often contradictory and the quality of scientific research varies widely.

Therefore, the GRACE project will establish new tools for assessing the quality of existing studies and will conduct comprehensive reviews to identify health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of GM plants.

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Plants for the Future
January 10, 2006 [nach oben springen]

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