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Challenges to EU food and agriculture


European Commissioner for Research Philippe Busquin has issued a thinly veiled attack on opponents to 'new technologies' in Europe, warning that European competitiveness in agriculture could be harmed 'through ignorance and prejudice'.

Speaking this week at the annual Euragri conference in Brussels, Busquin stressed that recent concerns and controversies over food safety have 'amplified the attention paid to agricultural research and the origins of food products'. He called for the establishment of a European platform on plant sciences through the networking of national research programmes that could serve to create an open, science-based dialogue.

The Euragri conference entitled "Science for Society - Science with Society", organised in association with the European Commission, examined these issues and proposed new goals, new roles and new rules to enable European research for food and agriculture to respond to the needs and concerns of society.

"New technologies, that can bring real benefits to citizens and improve the competitiveness of European agriculture, should not be discarded through ignorance and prejudice.

Instead we must work to balance governance and freedom of research to allow the advance of science, and adopt a level-headed approach to evaluate the risks, costs and benefits of each new development. Europe has huge potential in the area of plant sciences which can be harnessed through the European Research Area," said Busquin.

He quoted the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as a case in point. General reticence over GMO research and use is, according to Busquin, a cause of great concern for European competitiveness.

Agricultural production in the EU represents €220 billion a year and 7.5 million jobs, with an additional €600 billion and 2.6 million jobs in the food industry. Busquin, for his part, insists that an open, science-based dialogue is indispensable between all stakeholders for and against GMOs.

To promote this process the Commission has hosted roundtable meetings on GMO safety research bringing together European bio-safety researchers and other stakeholders, such as consumer organisations, environmental NGOs, national administrations and industry. According to a Commission statement it has been supported by 81 bio-safety research projects for a total EC funding of €70 million. Together, the projects involved over 400 teams from all parts of Europe.

For Busquin, the implementation of the European Research Area to link national research programmes offers an opportunity to leverage the vast amount of expertise available throughout Europe.

One such opportunity will arise in Brussels from 11-13 November, 2002 when the Commission is set to organise a large-scale event, with over 6,000 participants, to discuss the movement of EU research policy. The event, organised around the launch of the €17.5 billion Sixth Framework Programme for Research 2002-2006 (FP6) will involve over 25 plenary and practical sessions, 140 guest speakers and panellists, and 65 European and national research organisations. A full programme can be found on-line.

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