Climate and food security concerns prompting new openness to technology in agriculture

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Approval of a biotechnology reform bill in the European Parliament last month has been hailed as a major breakthrough toward allowing “new genomic techniques,” such as gene-editing, to be used in crop breeding in Europe.

The bill still faces an uphill battle to become law across the European Union, but the vote was one example of policymakers embracing new technology in agriculture due to concerns about climate shocks, biodiversity loss, and maintaining access to affordable, nutritious food, says Emily Rees, president and CEO of CropLife International.

Rees travelled from CropLife’s head office in Brussels to Winnipeg, Man., this week for the 2024 Crops Convention, hosted by the Canada Grains Council and Canola Council of Canada.

“What we’re seeing is a new embrace of innovation and technology in the agricultural discussion, and I don’t think this is particular to Europe,” she says, sitting down with RealAgriculture following her keynote presentation (watch/listen to our interview below).

As she meets with policymakers around the world, Rees says she’s seeing an opening for discussion and a new understanding of the role of agriculture and the technologies needed to boost yields as a result of conflicts and climatic shocks, such as severe drought.

At the same time, she’s concerned about backlash to new tools and technologies in agriculture on the trade front, as farmers fight to remain competitive with exports from other countries. As part of her presentation, Rees shared a photo of farm tractors blockading a street near her office in Brussels.

“The protests that we’re seeing not only in Europe, but worldwide, are genuinely stimulated from a question of competitiveness,” she says, noting many of the protesting farmers are calling for a level playing field when it comes to government import policies. “Pointing to the outside world, pointing to imports is a response to that. It’s an unfortunate protectionist response, but it’s certainly something that we’re seeing trending worldwide.”

While there were plenty of discussions about agriculture at the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference in Abu Dhabi last week, Rees says she was disappointed there wasn’t any breakthrough on discussions about trade barriers that impede food security.

Canada has always played a strong convening role on the global stage, says Rees, adding that she sees an opportunity for Canada to bring together like-minded countries when it comes to technology in agriculture and rules-based trade.

“That’s where Canadian negotiators I’m sure are firm at the job, but encouragement from the farming community is always very much welcome,” she notes.

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