Innovation in EU agriculture - European Union Committee Contents



Agriculture faces a global challenge. The world's population, now around 7 billion, is expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050. Many food prices have increased and are likely to go on doing so.

In response, agricultural production must increase—to feed these extra mouths, to keep prices down, and to respond to a world-wide demand for better nutrition.

Higher output has to be achieved using finite resources. The world cannot afford to release new land for farming. We need our forests and wilderness to absorb the carbon dioxide we create.

Supplies of fresh water are everywhere under pressure. Projections of climate change show that many areas used for agriculture are under threat, from drought or flooding.

Mitigating climate change also means that farmers must reduce their use of fossil fuels, and change practices that contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases.

The response to this challenge has to start now. Decisions have to be taken, and actions implemented, with urgency.

The UK and the EU are not sheltered from the challenge. Europe must act quickly and coherently to transform EU agriculture, and make it ready for this new era.

Far from limiting production, the trend of the last decade, European Governments must see as the prime focus of agricultural policy the need to raise productivity, while supporting environmental sustainability. Innovation must be at the heart of this effort.

Science is key. In the UK, the Government must maintain the quality of fundamental research but also do more to plug the gaps in applied agricultural research.

Between 2007 and 2013 the Common Agricultural Policy budget is around €400 bn; EU funding for agricultural research is under €2 bn. The European Commission must make a co-ordinated drive to lift agricultural research to a new level, not least through the European Innovation Partnership on sustainable and productive agriculture.

Innovative knowledge must be put into practice. This is not happening systematically across the EU. Member States should improve advice to agriculture; the CAP Farm Advisory System should be extended to stimulate innovative practice.

Regulation should help, not hinder. Politicians and society must not be afraid of new properly tested technologies. These may include the genetic modification of crops, but GM is only one example of a range of possible technologies. Benefits and risks must be clearly articulated, recognising that too precautionary an approach may pose risks to global food security.

This is a challenge that must be addressed across the Government, across the European Commission and across society. Only collaborative working, bringing together scientists, farmers, retailers, and consumers, will enable agriculture to meet the tests of the future.

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