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Exploiting opportunities and addressing the challenges of biotech in the Agri-Food sector

Advances in biotechnologies promise to be one of the major leaps in human scientific understanding in the twenty-first century, offering new products and processes that may help to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The Agri-Food sector is one area where biotechnologies could deliver on this promise. Innovative EU-funded research is aimed at ensuring that Europe can fully benefit from the opportunities created through Agri-Food biotech solutions, whilst maintaining high levels of environmental, food and consumer safety.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment
Food and Natural Resources icon Food and Natural Resources

Biotech solutions for the Agri-Food sector encompass a range of modern techniques and tools, which can help with understanding the fundamental mechanisms of the basis of life and be used to provide substantial benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment. To this end, there is a need for an in-depth knowledge of the impacts of new technologies, addressing the needs and concerns of different stakeholders and society at large. This also requires transparent and accurate communication on scientific and technological advances and the broader engagement of different players to ensure that both opportunities and challenges are not overlooked.

Responsible policymaking

This is why the European Commission has been highly committed to stimulating an informed and open political debate amongst all interested stakeholders on how the EU can both benefit from modern biotechnologies and innovation in the Agri-Food sector, whilst maintaining high safety standards. One of the ways the Commission facilitates this discussion is by ensuring impartial and thorough scientific advice to guarantee informed policymaking. In February 2017, the High Level Group of the Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) published an Explanatory Note on new techniques in the Agri-Food sector, covering applications in animals, plants, and microorganisms for food and feed production. The Note also outlined the agricultural application of new techniques in the fields of synthetic biology and gene drive.

Innovative research through EU-funded programmes

Alongside informed policymaking, the EU has also supported, through the FP7 and Horizon 2020 framework programmes, ambitious research projects that are at the forefront of exciting biotech developments and new discoveries within the Agri-Food sector. This CORDIS Results Pack is focusing on seven such projects, with highlights including the ECOSEED project that has explored the impact of tough environmental conditions on crop genes, to the FECUND project which has employed genetic research to the stall an alarming trend of infertility in cows. Moreover, whilst most the featured projects focus on tangible scientific advances, the SYN-ENERGENE project has been busy engaging with citizens on the challenges and opportunities of synthetic biology, a growing field that promises to be pivotal for the future development of Agri-Food biotechnologies.