Innovation in EU agriculture - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 7: Conclusions and REcommendations


168.  The need for global food security requires a broad, co-ordinated and swift response from Member States and the Commission, which must take account of the different elements of the food system. Improving the productivity of EU agriculture is an important contribution to meeting the challenge. The response also requires innovation, through new products and processes, and through ensuring that farmers make use of best practice methodologies and technologies. Agricultural innovation must achieve "sustainable intensification" (paragraph 18).

169.  Inputs (fossil fuels, fertilisers, water and pesticides) into agricultural systems will need to be reduced per unit area of land, while outputs are increased. Impacts on the ecological processes on which agriculture depends must be reduced, particularly on soils, climate, water bodies and biodiversity. In addition to rising demand for food, there is likely to be rising demand for public goods from agricultural ecosystems, such as carbon sequestration and the protection of bio-diversity (paragraph 19).

170.  We agree on the vital importance of reducing food waste but are far from convinced that EU Member States are taking the issue seriously. The European Union must move swiftly towards adopting indicators for bio-waste prevention measures and then towards bio-waste prevention targets (paragraph 22).

171.  The Government should define a clear set of widely agreed indicators to measure progress over time towards increased agricultural production and reduced environmental impact. These must be monitored by an independent expert committee (paragraph 29).

172.  At the EU level, a food production strategy should underpin the Common Agricultural Policy (paragraph 30). National and EU-level strategies for food production should in turn underpin innovation. Without such strategies, conflicting priorities, between national government departments and within the European Commission, will inevitably act as obstacles to effective innovation. Strategies must be sensitive to the diversity of EU farming and food production systems, and should be framed within EU guidelines. They should be developed "bottom-up", not imposed "top-down". Local ownership and implementation are essential (paragraph 32).


173.  Innovation is an intrinsic aspect of agriculture, and EU agriculture will continue to need support in its efforts to innovate. The particular risks that it faces—climate, disease and price volatility—and the small size of the average agricultural business, must be recognised as a basis for helping this industry to innovate (paragraph 40).

174.  The farming industry and scientific community are currently contributing to agricultural innovation in a large variety of ways. But the reach of innovation in EU agriculture must be extended, if substantial future risks to European food security are to be avoided, and to respond to the need for sustainable intensification of agriculture. Member States and the Commission should both play a role in shaping the framework to strengthen this process (paragraph 49).


175.  Sustainable intensification of agriculture must be a determining feature of agriculture's future and of innovation within the industry; we urge those with national funding responsibility to prioritise support for further work on nutrient efficiency, water efficiency, genomics and soil science, as key elements of the UK's approach to sustainable intensification (paragraph 57).

176.  The Government, and those with funding responsibilities, must look more urgently at how research aimed at translating scientific findings into practice can be revived and enhanced, building on initiatives already under way (paragraph 58).

177.  The Government, with other key educational bodies, should review the content and presentation of agricultural studies and plant science from school level, through further and higher education, to adult re-training programmes: studying agriculture should be seen as a frontline activity of central importance to ensure that its relevance to the challenges of food security and sustainable intensification is clear (paragraph 61).

178.  The Commission should play a full role in encouraging research collaboration between Member States outside the EU Framework Programme, and should consider including possible financing for such collaboration under the next Framework Programme, in addition to the current ERA-NET co-operation scheme (paragraph 66).

179.  We strongly welcome the Commission's acknowledgement of the need to make research funding less bureaucratic; we consider that the UK Government should support this intention; and we urge the Commission to make rapid progress with the reforms which it has outlined (paragraph 67).

180.  The EU's future Research Framework Programme should be organised more flexibly and in response to tackling grand challenges, rather than following the current approach which tends to brigade research according to rigid themes (paragraph 68).

181.  The Government must ensure that, with the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies, successor arrangements enable ERDF support to be accessed easily, and without interruption, by appropriate projects in the UK (paragraph 72).

182.  We support the idea of a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on agricultural productivity and sustainability, but only on the understanding that it will be founded on effective, action-based co-operation, including between the different Directorates-General of the Commission. The Government must work closely with the Commission and other Member States to clarify and guide the EIP proposals (paragraph 78). The Commission should follow a "twin-track approach" (EU networking, local delivery) in taking forward the agriculture EIP; and it needs to develop metrics and identify clear targets, so that the progress of the EIP is measured against those targets and is regularly reviewed (paragraph 79).

183.  We welcome the fact that greater prominence is being given to agriculture in the deliberations of the European Commission, and we urge that it should be given a similar priority in political debate in the UK (paragraph 80).

184.  It is clear that a more strategic approach to agricultural research is required. Agricultural research must be seen as an integral part of agricultural and food policy—in particular, if the CAP demands more from farmers in terms of tackling climate change, the research agenda needs to respond accordingly. We call for a strengthening of interdisciplinary work, bringing natural and social scientists together to work on food security (paragraph 82).

185.  It is unacceptable that agricultural research funding at the EU level is under €2 bn over seven years, while the agricultural policy budget is around €400 bn. Increased funding for agriculture under the Research Programme, through the suggested grand challenges approach, should be supported financially by reducing the proportion of the EU budget devoted to supporting the Common Agricultural Policy. Within the remaining, and still substantial, agricultural budget, funds should be partially re-allocated towards innovation under the Rural Development Fund (paragraph 83).


186.  There is no one single solution to agricultural knowledge transfer that is applicable across the EU. It must be fine-tuned to national and regional practice and, as far as possible, to individual farmers (paragraph 94).

187.  The introduction of the Farm Advisory System at the time of the last CAP reform was welcome, but the time has now come to extend it beyond cross-compliance. There should be an obligation under the CAP for Member States to ensure that comprehensive farm advice is available throughout their territories, geared towards meeting the new challenges of food security, climate change and the need for sustainable intensification (paragraph 98).

188.  The provision of farm advice in England is fragmented and overly complex. Taking on board best practice from elsewhere, and with the support of the Government, we recommend that the levy boards play a central role in broadening and deepening the range of advice currently offered to farmers in England (paragraph 101).

189.  Financing of farm advice is a decision for Member States. Nevertheless, greater resources could be made available under Pillar 2 of the CAP to support the provision of farm advice. While its use ought to remain discretionary, it could be encouraged by ring-fencing a certain amount of money or by offering a different co-financing rate for such measures. We recommend that this matter be explored in discussions on reform of the CAP (paragraph 108).

190.  The key to successful knowledge transfer is the presentation of a clear business case. Presentation and communication skills, in addition to a clear understanding of the needs of farmers, thus become as important among farm advisers as knowledge of the innovation itself (paragraph 110).

191.  The transfer of R&D knowledge transfer to farms is just one part of the agricultural innovation system. It is a complex and interactive process of knowledge exchange involving scientists, farmers, food processors, retailers, government and consumers. So, to be successful, sustainable intensification of agriculture will require better cooperation among farm businesses, advisory bodies and scientists; greater responsiveness in European agriculture to markets; improved interdisciplinary research among scientists and social scientists; and farmers becoming actively involved in setting agricultural research agendas. Effective innovation requires systems to be in place promoting communication between all of these actors. We welcome the work of the EU-level working group on agricultural knowledge and innovation systems; Member States should give its conclusions high political priority (paragraphs 121 to 123).

192.  Consumers are a fundamentally important part of the innovation system. At the end of the food chain, consumer preferences largely determine what is on the shelf, but we are far from convinced that consumer preferences are formed on the basis of sufficient information about products' sustainability. Communication, about new technologies and about issues surrounding the sustainable intensification of agriculture, goes to the heart of the challenge; it means listening to consumers as well as directing information at them. It includes tackling the impact of dietary habits on the sustainability of food systems (paragraph 135).

193.  Trust is a key concern, and it is appropriate to recognise that consumers may lack trust in messages from Government or business. That being said, it cannot be right for national and regional authorities to step away from the process of communication. Retailers and food processors must also accept responsibility for communication with consumers about innovative and sustainable agricultural products and practices, and about the wider implications of their dietary choices (paragraph 136).

194.  The European Commission should help to share best practice in communication with consumers. National and regional authorities should offer financial and organisational help to allow for public participation in discussions about innovation in agricultural and food systems. Getting the message across is a task in which scientists, industry, retailers, media and civil society should play a full role (paragraph 137).


195.  Payments under Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy (direct payments) should be made in return for delivery of public goods, responding to climate change, protecting biodiversity and encouraging environmental innovation. We agree, however, that better integration of environmental considerations into Pillar 1 must not lead to further bureaucratic complexity. The sustainable intensification of the CAP must be achieved on the basis of real improvements to the EU's and Member States' knowledge transfer systems. More effective advice to farmers must strengthen the adoption of best practice which will have both economic and environmental benefits (paragraphs 144 and 145).

196.  Under Pillar 2 (rural development), support for innovation-related projects must be core and a balance must be ensured between purely agri-environmental projects and funding to support agricultural innovation, whilst recalling that the two are often compatible. Pillar 2 should be sufficiently flexible to encourage innovation in relation to all forms of agricultural material, whether food or not. Alongside such flexibility, we support the European Commission's proposal that a higher rate of co-financing be made available to support innovation-related projects under Pillar 2. Such an increase in financing can be supported, at least in part, by reducing the level of direct payments under Pillar 1 (paragraph 151).

197.  Policy incoherence in the Commission is a serious obstacle to agricultural innovation. The European Commissioner responsible for agriculture and food must ensure that the need to promote innovation in EU agriculture is respected by other parts of the Commission when they take decisions which will impact on the food and farming sector (paragraph 152).

198.  We urge the Commission and Member States to act with urgency in determining a robust set of factors, indicators and rules for data collection that will facilitate a better understanding of the socio-economic implications of GMO cultivation (paragraph 162).

199.  Good regulation is evidence-based, taking into account environmental, economic and social considerations. We are clear that the precautionary principle must continue to underpin regulatory decisions with regard to food safety. It must, however, be applied with due consideration of available scientific evidence of potential risks and benefits. Reluctance to take a risk can be a risk in itself if, for example, global food security is likely to be threatened (paragraph 163).

200.  It is critical for reasons of productivity, sustainability and competitiveness, that appropriate technologies can be adopted swiftly after proper testing. The EU decision-making procedure should seek to help, rather than hinder, the adoption of appropriate new technologies. We would not recommend that new techniques should routinely be assumed to be safe unless proven otherwise, but there is undoubtedly a need for a much clearer articulation of the potential risks and benefits of any technology. In advancing this debate at a political level, it would be appropriate for the European Commission to re-visit its 2000 Communication on the Precautionary Principle and to re-consider the application of the principle in the light of the grand challenges faced by society (paragraph 164).

201.  We note concerns that high animal welfare standards in EU legislation can harm the competitiveness of EU farmers on the world market. Equally, however, we would not wish to see a weakening in EU standards as a result. Rather, we have been impressed to see how high animal welfare standards and business efficiency can be mutually supportive, and we encourage partnerships that can develop such win-win scenarios (paragraph 167).

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