6 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM WHY PLANT BREEDING INNOVATION IS ESSENTIAL FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. BY: MARCEL BRUINS WHY IT MATTERS In light of the global challenges, progress in plant breeding has gained unprecedented importance, and regulating products of plant breeding innovation has been a hot topic for over a decade. The latest plant breeding methods will not change the general objectives of plant breeding as such, but will help to achieve these goals in a more efficient and targeted way. ESA states that if the plants could also have been produced through earlier breeding methods or by natural processes without human intervention, there is no need for additional regulatory oversight like for classical GMOs. Through its new campaign, ESA wants to show how plant breeding helps to meet consumer expectations, to find natural solutions to meet the food demand and how it supports resource efficient farming by safeguarding yields and reducing losses in the field. DISCOVERING THE F or several years, the EU Commission has been discussing the regulatory status of products of plant breeding innovation. As the outcome of the discussions would have a serious impact on the European innovation capacity of the breeding sector, a sustainable agriculture and the global seed trade, ESA had a keen interest in following and contributing to this debate. To support ESA’s advocacy efforts, ESA recently launched the “Embracing the Power of Nature” communications cam- paign. European Seed spoke with Petra Jorasch, Manager Plant Breeding & Innovation Advocacy of the European Seed Association (ESA), for her take on plant breeding innova- tion and the impact on EU plant breeding and agriculture, seed trade and society at large. EUROPEAN SEED (ES): PETRA, FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS, WE’VE BEEN READING A LOT ABOUT THESE NEW TECHNIQUES. IN YOUR VIEW, WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF THE NEW TECHNIQUES FOR THE VARIOUS GROUPS IN SOCIETY, SUCH AS SEED TRADE, FARMERS, CONSUMERS ETC.? PETRA JORASCH (PJ): In light of the global challenges we all face, like climate change, an increasing world population and increasing scarcity of natural resources such as arable land and water, progress in plant breeding has gained unprecedented importance. High- yielding crops that need less input and are of superior nutritional value might help to address these challenges. Longer shelf life of fruits and vegetables might also contribute to avoiding food waste. Farmers face the need to produce in a more resource efficient way, because the use of agricultural inputs like ferti- lizers or pesticides will become more and more restricted. Therefore, crops with a better pest resistance or enhanced nutrient use efficiency are needed. Only with that we will be able to establish a sustainable, yet highly-productive agriculture. Also, traders want to have access to grains and vegetables that have a high qual- ity and can withstand long transportation and storage. All these needs can be addressed also by innovations of plant breeding and although the use of the latest plant breeding methods will not change the general objectives of plant breeding as such, they help, to achieve these goals in a more efficient and targeted way. ES: THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION HAS BEEN DISCUSSING HOW TO INTERPRET THE GMO LEGISLATION IN RELATION TO ORGANISMS PRODUCED BY NEW PLANT BREEDING TECHNIQUES. WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG AND HOW CAN WE SPEED THIS UP? PJ: Yes indeed, the discussions on EU-level started already around 2007, when the EU-Commission asked member states to set up an expert working group to analyse EU law for genetically modified plants in relation to the latest plant breeding methods. During that time technologies like CRISPR-Cas that are now on everyone’s lips had not even been discovered. Since then the EU commissioned several reports and opinions about these new breeding methods and all of them concluded that the existing legislation can be applied to the products resulting from these latest meth- ods. But of course, this needs an interpretation or clarification of certain terms of the current GMO-directive and this is exactly what the Commission was supposed to do. In the end, it seems that the Commission does not dare to give this interpretation and now it is up to the European Court of Justice to at least decide about some of the questions in the current SHADES OF GREY