EU agriculture ministers call for progress in the use of new technologies to tackle the challenges of climate change

News - 2023.9.5

The Informal Meeting of Ministers for Agriculture of the European Union (IMM) held today in Cordoba has left a clear message of the common commitment of EU countries to the application of new technologies, which must play a key role in the transition towards a more sustainable agri-food system and enable the effects of climate change to be tackled. Their use will also make it easier for the agri-food sector to become more profitable and competitive.

In his speech, the acting Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, highlighted how the supply of safe, nutritious food of sufficient quality and quantity is a global challenge for the whole planet, given that, according to United Nations forecasts, the world population will reach 9.7 billion people by 2050.

With this objective in mind, Luis Planas stressed the need to transform food systems to make them fairer, more resilient and healthier and, at the same time, to make a decisive contribution to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. All of this is focused on the triple objective of food security, the overall sustainability of natural resources and the guarantee of a livelihood for those living in rural areas.

In a scenario in which extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, the acting minister underlined how European initiatives and policies must be geared towards responding to the environmental and climatic challenges facing food production. "Agriculture is one of the human activities most affected by climate change, but it is also part of the solution to this problem," he assured his counterparts during the working sessions of the IMM in Cordoba.

To this end, he said, more efficient and sustainable agriculture is essential, which is only possible through innovation and the application of new technologies. Moreover, such a path would allow the European Union to remain at the forefront in all technological fields.

Priorities of the Spanish Presidency

This debate falls within the framework of the four priorities of the Spanish Presidency of the Council These are: reindustrialising the EU and guaranteeing its strategic autonomy; advancing in the ecological transition and environmental adaptation; promoting greater social and economic justice; and, finally, strengthening European unity.

Luis Planas stressed that the incorporation of new technologies in agri-food production would make it possible to respond to the first two of these priorities, in terms of guaranteeing the EU's food autonomy and the necessary ecological transition and environmental adaptation to the climate challenge.

Technological innovations that will contribute to the ecological transformation include new gene-editing techniques applied to the breeding of new plant varieties.

Last July, the European Commission presented its proposal to regulate the use of materials obtained from gene-editing techniques in European agriculture. In circulating the proposed Regulation, the Commission explained how these can contribute to the transition to a more sustainable agricultural and food system and help reduce the EU's external dependencies for agri-food production.

Precision farming and digitisation

But also in the field of agriculture and livestock farming, there are many technological innovations that can contribute to the triple objective of making farms sustainable in all their aspects.

These include precision agriculture, the use of sensors, feed additives, carbon sequestration, nitrogen-fixing crops and artificial intelligence-based plant disease recognition. All this, hand in hand with digitisation.

New technologies will allow progress to be made in meeting the European Green Pact, and in particular the challenges of the Farm to Fork Strategy, which includes ensuring sufficient and reasonably priced food without compromising the planet's productive limits.

The acting minister Planas highlighted Europe's position as a key player in world agri-food trade, which, in his opinion, makes it essential to create a space in which new technologies can add to and be part of the solution.

Representatives of the agricultural sector and cooperatives, and of young farmers, through their European representative organisations (COPA-COGECA and CEJA), have also participated in the IMM working sessions. The Spanish scientific and technological sector has also contributed its vision, through Professor Josep María Casacuberta, from the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), who presented the scientific bases on how gene-editing techniques applicable to agriculture help us respond to the commitments of the green pact and the farm-to-fork strategy.

Speaking at the IMM in Cordoba on behalf of the Commission were Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Claire Bury, Deputy Director of the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety. The European Parliament was represented by the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Norbert Lins.

Main conclusions

Acting Minister Luis Planas, at the press conference following the IMM, described the meeting as "very positive and constructive". "It has been a success for Cordoba, for Spain and for the European Union," he said. In his view, the meeting will allow progress to be made towards reaching political conclusions on gene-editing techniques during the Spanish Presidency.

After an intense and fruitful debate, Planas stressed that the ministers agreed on the "need to tackle the double digital and agri-environmental transition, which are two sides of the same coin", and which should lead us to a more sustainable and resilient agriculture that reduces pressure on the climate and the environment.

Similarly, he reported that they have reviewed the initiatives that will enable the agri-environmental transition to be achieved, such as the fight against food waste, and the circular economy, new technologies linked to precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, the need to extend broadband to agriculture and the shared use of data.

During the working sessions, ministers also agreed on the need to make financial mechanisms available to farmers for investment in, and training in, new technologies. In particular, the role played by EU funds from the Horizon Europe programme and the measures envisaged in the CAP strategic plans, which will enable the number of innovative projects to triple in this period in order to bring about the digital and innovative transformation, has been highlighted.

In the meeting, and based on the context provided by the scientific world, the potential of gene-editing techniques applied to the breeding of new plant varieties to meet the challenge of sustainability in food production and in particular to address the challenge of climate change and the need to reduce the use of plant protection products and fertilisers was discussed.

All this while preserving the coexistence of all models and forms of food production in the Union, particularly as regards organic farming.

As the acting minister Luis Planas concluded, the Spanish Presidency is committed to working constructively, together with all delegations, on the proposal presented by the European Commission on 5 July, and to obtaining a good result for our sector as a whole and for our citizens.

Non official translation