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European curbs on technology seen as harming farm productivity

Industry-funded study finds hazard-based regulation is a major problem

by Alex Scott
September 5, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 36

A photo of fields in Europe.
Credit: Shutterstock
A study by AgbioInvestor concludes that European controls on plant biotechnology and pesticides are hampering productivity of the region's farms.

Poor access to plant biotechnology and pesticides is causing European farm productivity to lag that of other countries, resulting in increased reliance on imports, according to a study by AgbioInvestor, a Scotland-based analyst firm. The study was commissioned by CropLife International, an agrochemical industry association whose members include Bayer and Syngenta.

The value of the EU’s agricultural output was flat between 2000 and 2014 while it increased by 80% in China, 70% in Brazil, and more than 30% in the U.S., the study finds. AgbioInvestor says the EU’s regulatory system—which is based on perceived hazard, rather than risk—is the source of the problem.

“We support the need for rigorous regulation to protect public health and the environment, but this report shows Europe has got the balance all wrong,” says Howard Minigh, president of CropLife International.

The region’s policies have turned Europe into a “museum of agriculture,” and change is urgently needed to remedy the situation, adds Beat Spaeth, director of green biotechnology for EuropaBio, a European biotech industry association.

But Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a Brussels-based network of more than 600 non-government organizations seeking to minimize the negative effects of pesticides, roundly rejects the study’s conclusions. “European crop productivity is at a very high level, and farmers have plenty of tools to keep it that way,” says Hans Muilerman, chemicals officer for PAN. “Since 2009 the number of pesticides available in Europe has been doubled from about 250 to 500.”

Instead of seeking out new pesticides and genetically modified crops, farmers should be looking at techniques such as crop rotation, planting resistant varieties, and biological controls, Muilerman says.


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