On May 23, the European Technology Platform ‘Plants for the Future’ (Plant ETP), in collaboration with MEP Jasenko Selimović and MEP Julie Girling, organised the workshop “Plants for Human Health” at the European Parliament. The main aim was to discuss how plant research and plant breeding could address challenges arising from the continuous need to increase food production while at the same time improving nutritional quality and assuring safety at the point of consumption.
The event gathered representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, Member States, and Plant ETP stakeholder experts. This was the fourth event of a series of workshops “Sustainable growth: Unlocking the potential of plants”, which follows a report by former MEP Marit Paulsen on “Plant breeding: what options to increase quality and yields” published in 2014.
In the opening speech, MEP Julie Girling acknowledged the untapped potential of plants and expressed her strong belief in the potential of plant research and plant breeding stating that “the range of innovation in plant science is massive and essential for our wellbeing”. She also noted that innovation does not have to be revolutionary, with much progress in plant science simply “getting more out of our existing varieties”.
Dr. Barend Verachtert, the Head of the Agri-Food Chain Unit in DG RTD of the European Commission, highlighted that the future EU framework programme “Horizon Europe” will recognize the significance of research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and bioeconomy by specifically earmarking €10 billion for this area. Dr Verachtert acknowledged the “need for a systemic approach to future-proofing food systems” and explained the FOOD 2030 initiative that takes aims to “connect research and innovation from ‘farm-to-fork-to-gut-and back’.”
Cathie Martin, professor at the John Innes Centre, drew participants’ attention to socio-behavioural risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, decreasing physical activity and consumption of unhealthy diets, which contribute significantly to the incidence of chronic disease. Prof. Martin stressed the importance of the health-promoting plant-based foods and explained how crops with enhanced levels of specific compounds such as anthocyanins can improve diets.
In his speech, Dr Andreas Sewing, Head of Research and Development of the Vegetable Seeds unit at Bayer, stressed that “vegetable-based diets deliver benefits to human health while also contributing to a more sustainable food production with reduced environmental impact”. Dr. Sewing pointed out that although “the benefits of a more vegetable based diet are evident and accepted widely, the challenge remains: how to increase consumption”. He explained that responding to consumer needs, such as improved taste, increased access and convenience are often influencing the uptake of certain products and may drive the changes in our everyday food choices.
Michael Hambly, an active farmer from Cornwall and the Vice Chairman of the Copa-Cogeca Cereals Group, explained the producer’s perspective and presented how rapid technological advancement is influencing agriculture: “all farmers strive for the production of wholesome, healthy food that consumers have confidence in. To meet ever increasing demand for sustainable production growers need access to new technology in both plant breeding techniques and products to protect their crops and the quality of them.”