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From WIAE Summit 2021: The EU Green Deal -- A Game Changer?

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (March 30, 2021)

While we hope that you joined us for our second virtual Women in Agribusiness Summit Europe earlier this month in “Paris”, but just in case you didn’t, we’ll feature the highlights of key sessions here in WIA Today over the coming weeks.

At this conference, Joy O’Shaughnessy, WIA event director and COO for Agribusiness at parent company HighQuest Partners, reminded the audience that our conferences focus on topics that fall into what is known as the missing 33 percent. O’Shaughnessy explained that this theory, made popular by Susan Colantuono, CEO and founder of Leading Women, refers to there being three main traits that one needs to be considered a leader. They are: personal growth, engaging others, and business acumen. “While women receive plenty of advice on the first two, business acumen instruction is the missing 33 percent in women’s professional development that creates a barrier to reaching executive roles,” said O’Shaughnessy. “We strive [in our conferences] to deliver to you some of the missing 33 percent to help connect the dots from what is happening in one part of the industry to your part, and to create a platform to highlight women leaders who are paving the way for others.”

Knowing this, please now embark on a learning journey through this transcription of the “EU Green Deal – A Game Changer for Agriculture?” session from day two of the three-day conference as presented by Géraldine Kutas, CropLife Europe, Director General. To note, Kutas took the reins of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), now CropLife Europe, as of September 2019. Previously she worked as head of international affairs at UNICA where she was responsible for defining and leading the organisation’s international activities becoming one of the key voices during the recently agreed EU-Mercosur trade deal.

Good afternoon to all of you. I'm amazed by how many talented, competent women work in the agricultural space sector dominated by men and invisible women. But now women are indivisible. And I'm delighted to see how much energy is deployed to move things forward. So thank you very much to the organizers for the kind invitation to attend this conference and speak about the Green Deal.

Last week marks 18 months since have become the director general of Croplife Europe, formerly known as the European Crop Protection Association. It seems I started yesterday, and believe me, it's been a very exciting and demanding period to lead this association that has recently expanded the scope to cover biopesticides, plant biotech, and precision and digital agriculture, in addition to conventional pesticides. I'm impressed to see the crop protection sector ready to have complex debates and provide innovative solutions to challenges that agriculture and society are facing.

Today, our food production systems bring quality food in abundance to the tables of European citizens. Food which is safe, tasty, diverse, and affordable. It also enables Europe to participate and be a major player in the global food market. We export and import all kinds of agricultural products, giving employment and support to millions of farmers in Europe, and also throughout the world. However, we also have to recognize that the sustainability of our food production system, although it's very efficient, is being challenged by civil society. It requires a number of inputs, fossil fuel, chemicals, and water, all things which society is asking us to reduce in order to reduce the overall impact of food production on our planet. This is an issue and the central debate and a very complex one. There are many factors to be considered in this complex equation, many trade-offs, and it is tempting to oversimplify the whole debate.

The pressure on our industry today is enormous, coming from all angles to reduce or even eliminate the use of these products. But our current food production system relies on them to assure the quality, as well as the safety and availability that our society also expects. With the publication of the Green Deal and of the Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission has set an ambitious direction of travel, a direction of travel that our industry fully supports. So you will tell me, is it really possible to reduce the impact of crop protection products? My answer is yes. I strongly believe it. Our industry has made it a priority and our companies are investing in several directions to reduce this overall impact – to new chemicals, more selective and with a more evergreen profile, biopesticides from natural origin, which can be used in both organic and conventional farming, precision and digitally assisted applications, which enable the delivery of the minimum amounts of pesticides at the right place at the right time.

Only last year we launched our voluntary 2030 commitments, with a 14 billion Euro investment in biopesticides and digital and precision agriculture by 2030. This was our answer to the Green Deal. We believe that with these innovative solutions that protect crops, we are able to deliver on the promises of the Green Deal. Our industry is making this investment because we believe in the future of agriculture and we believe in scientific progress. We believe it is possible to produce food for everyone in Europe and elsewhere in a more sustainable, less impactful way. We consider that modern, productive farming techniques used in combination with good agricultural and agronomic practices are necessary for a healthy diet and a sustainable planet.

As an industry, we are ready to play our part to produce food for all in a more sustainable way. But in Europe, we need help to continue innovating and developing the various solutions that our companies invest in. Most importantly, we need to make sure that these modern solutions will reach the European farmers. But what we see in Europe is a kind of paradox. For instance, only 31 new conventional pesticides entered the market in the last 10 years because of the difficulty in going through the regulatory approval and the cost of bringing new solutions to the market, despite the fact that these new active substances have a better toxicological profile and better biodegradability than their predecessors. Our companies are fully committed to supporting agriculture in Europe, but are increasingly nervous about investing in a range in a region where scientific criteria are not the only elements used to make decisions. And too often, political considerations are also used.

At the same time, we see an unprecedented reduction in the number of existing conventional substances authorized on the European market. Think that in the year 2000 there were over 1,000 conventional substances authorized in Europe; today, there are 450, of which only 23 are low-risk active substances and 23 are basic substances like milk or beef. This huge reduction in conventional solutions is unfortunately not compensated by the acceleration of natural origin active substance authorizations. Biopesticides and other natural origin compounds are slowly entering the market as companies increase their investment, but it takes time to develop effective biopesticides and they are not discovered by coincidence. These substances have to be assessed carefully as well, to ensure that they can be used safely in European conditions. Remember, natural doesn't necessarily mean safe.

On top of that, there is a huge backlog in the authorization process with member states and EU authorities unable to comply with the timelines. All this translates into a shrinking toolbox for farmers who have less and less tools to protect their crops. In the last 10 years, only 13 low-yield, low-risk substances were authorized. Did you know that it takes around 11 years to bring one single pesticide or biopesticide to the market? This is from discovery to the first sale. So we are already out of the timeline set by the Farm to Fork, which is 2030. If we are to truly deliver on the goals of the Green Deal by 2050, and Farm to Fork by 2030, we need to fight these paradoxes, as we are not going to manage with the current outlook and the current delays within the regulatory framework.

This has created an awkward situation where requests for what's called emergency authorization have increased dramatically over the last five years as products were disappearing from the European market, often without effective alternatives. Farmers, especially of specialty crops, have found themselves without solutions so they request more and more emergency authorizations. Between 2008 and 2018, emergency authorizations in the EU went from 50 to several hundred. In itself this is a sign that an honest serious conversation must take place on the kind of agricultural production we want in Europe. We understand that the needs of the farmers and lack of effective solutions for the pest and disease that they are faced with are becoming their daily struggle. On the front of precision applications, progress is slow as well. The availability of high speed internet in rural areas, the economic situation of many small European farmers, and the complexity of the European regulatory regimes are slowing down progress. Innovation in seed technology is also in question with the decision of the European Court of Justice to consider new breeding techniques as GMOs. This has slowed down research in Europe, while it will give a significant opportunity to farmers in other regions of the world to improve their productions and eventually to farm in a more sustainable way. So we are faced with a global challenge to transform our food production system and make it more sustainable, less resource intensive, and to a large extent more productive as well, as the world population will reach 9 billion by 2050. But in an oversimplification of this debate, people automatically think that European farmers should do this by relying on less crop protection solutions, on less advanced seeds, and to the large extent, on less digital solutions. Let's look at drones for instance. There is huge potential in this area. But pesticide application by drones is still in principle not authorized by the EU legislation. Unfortunately, pests, weeds, and disease are here to stay and they are likely to increase in the years to come as a result of climate change. So we need to find innovative solutions.

Reducing the impact of farming does not mean reducing the solutions available to farmers. It means accelerating the emergence of new, better solutions, modifying farming practices and using technology to farm with less resources. We need to do better, we need to do more with less. By way of final remarks, I would just like to say something that I am understanding to become a 2020 and 2021 mantra. It is one minute to midnight for climate change and biodiversity loss. Our industry is deeply committed to playing its part in delivering the ambitions of the Green Deal. But we believe that in order to do so, we need to make a shift towards an innovation-friendly policy framework. There is no time anymore for blaming and shaming. We all need to work together to find common solutions that will help us to preserve biodiversity, adapt to climate change, and decently feed the world population.

About Géraldine Kutas

Géraldine Kutas took reins of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), now CropLife Europe, in September 2019. Previously she worked as head of international affairs at UNICA where she was responsible for defining and leading the organization’s international activities, becoming one of the key voices during the recently agreed EU-Mercosur trade deal.

Kutas worked for the meat industry as well as for intergovernmental organizations and the academia.

She has over 15 years of experience in public affairs working in different continents. She brings a wealth of knowledge in agricultural and international trade policies, coupled with her passion for sustainability and fight against climate change. Kutas holds an MA in Foreign Affairs from Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.) and a Ph.D. in International Economics from l’Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris.

* All views, data, opinions and declarations expressed are solely those of the author(s) and not of Women in Agribusiness or parent company HighQuest Partners.


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