What happens when one region of the world — a major hub for global trade — chooses politics over science when it comes to innovation in agriculture? Unfortunately, Europe is a perfect case study.
The European Union (EU) has proven to be a drag on global innovation. When it comes to crops commonly traded with the EU, new crop varieties developed through genetic modification (GM) will generally not be released to farmers in Canada until they are approved for import into the EU. Releasing these new crop varieties prior to EU import approvals could have potentially devastating impacts on trade.
The result is that Canadian growers — and others around the world — cannot access the latest technology they need to more efficiently and sustainably grow food to feed the world. Europe’s policy is a drawback to its own people, too. This is a region that is heavily dependent on food and feed imports. The EU’s livestock, poultry and feed industries are more than 70 per cent dependent on imported protein.
In Canada, on average, it takes about two years to get a new GM crop through the regulatory approval process. According to EuropaBio, it takes an average of six years for the EU to approve GM crops for importation. The resulting delay in getting new crops into the hands of farmers can have huge costs for the entire agricultural value chain.
While the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) does a scientific assessment of any new GM products, their findings can be ignored in favour of politics when member states of the European Commission vote on whether or not to accept that scientific recommendation.
This creates a system that is completely unpredictable. This is a significant disincentive for life sciences companies to invest in research and innovation because the path to commercialization is fraught with uncertainty. Europe’s lack of commitment to science-based decision making is having a global cooling effect on innovation.
And it appears that recent changes to the voting rules in the EU will even further divorce decisions around the approval of biotech crops from the science-based evaluations of the EFSA.
Given what we have learned from the European story it’s critical that as Canada engages in trade negotiations with any country or region that we address issues such as these that serve as a barrier to innovation and trade. When it comes to Europe specifically, we must leverage the momentum from the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement. We as an industry must support the Canadian government in pushing Europe towards science-based decision making, which will drive Canadian agricultural exports and allow our farmers to adopt the latest technology at home.