Brussels, 24 May 2004
A report by the European Academies of Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has called for a more coordinated approach, as well as increased funding, so as to enable Europe to capitalise on advances in plant genetics.
The report claims that the application of new tools and methods in plant genetics to conventional farming is being held back by a lack of a coherent research strategy at European level and the impact of legislation
The EASAC claims that plant genetics could benefit agriculture in ways unrelated to genetic modification, and therefore also recommends that the EU Member States do more to assist the development of plant genetics in developing countries.
In order to promote plant genetics abroad, more investment in this area of research is first needed at home.
'Until recently, much of the research on crops in the European Union has been carried out in public institutions,' said Professor Gian Tommaso Scarascia-Mugnozza. However, we recognise that most crop research is now carried out in the private sector, and that, in the present political climate, many companies are pessimistic about the future of research on plant genetics and of its application in Europe. It is evident that they are reducing their in-house research located in the European Union, and this is having an impact on the level of funding in universities.'
Vice-Chairman of the EASAC, Professor Edoardo Vesentini, urged both policy makers and the general public not to let the recent controversy over genetic modification to overshadow achievements in other areas of plant genetics. He listed such successes as cross-bred varieties of oilseed rape, cotton, soy and maize that are tolerant of weedkillers or resistant to insects. 'Some scientists have likened the potential impact of the new plant genetics on conventional crop breeding to that of the jet engine on air travel,' he added.
The report notes that plant genetics can be used to create new industries. For example, new methods can be employed to produce crop plants to be used as renewable fuels, or an environmentally friendly source of chemicals.
The organisation also highlights how EU legislation can have an unintended impact on plant genetics. 'The Commission and Parliament need to be more aware of the way in which the development of policies in areas such as energy, chemicals and recycling can accidentally restrict research into crop plants,' said Professor Scarascia-Mugnozza.
For further information on the EASAC, please consult the following web address: