The draft report is a motion for a European Parliament resolution and will be up for voting next week (7th June) in the Parliament. It has already passed in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development with 23 votes for vs. 14 against. In general, the motion calls for a technological solution involving precision farming, precision breeding and the use of plant protection products to meet challenges in global food production.
GenØk – Centre for Biosafety, would like to stress some points that, in the report, are give little attention or neglected.
- Whereas thoroughly regulated technological solutions in agriculture indeed have a high potential and may be a part of meeting the world’s food production challenges, it should not be looked upon as the only solution. Initiatives for improving other forms of agriculture, like conventional breeding and organic agriculture must be equally supported and endorsed to achieve our common goals.
- The assessment of technological solutions for sustainable agriculture needs to be broader than only science-based. It needs to include stakeholder collaboration in product development to consider and reflect upon a diverse range of values, assumptions and beliefs (a principle emphasized in the concept ‘Responsible Research and Innovation – RRI). Decisions about what level of regulation and on what basis certain products should be approved, are influenced by a range of factors, including ethical and socio-economic considerations.
- Stimulating product development and research must also ensure adequate independent research to fill the knowledge gaps concerning the relevant technologies, in agriculture and elsewhere. History has thought us that substances like PCB, asbestos and even tobacco smoking was first considered safe due to lack of data, but was later found by independent research to severely damage human health. Currently, the agrochemical glyphosate is under scrutiny. We should not want to repeat such mistakes from the past.
- It is important to distinguish between a cost-benefit analysis and risk assessment. The latter is the responsibility of legislative authorities and regulatory bodies and aims to protect the environment, animal and human health regardless of what social challenges the product may or may not meet. A cost-benefit analysis is not a part of a risk assessment, although it may be included as a part of the final decision for approval if the outcome of the risk assessment is favorable.
- Applications of high-precision breeding techniques must be fully risk assessed. The lack of scientific data should not force a premature approval; rather invoke the precautionary principle if there are any concerns for environmental damage or human health.