The two reports presented on July 22nd at Re-Imagine Europa’s event “Beyond the Apple of Discord: Changing our Agri Culture” share the ambitious aim to shift the public discourse concerning technological innovation in agriculture. They focus on the viable policy options to modify the current legislation for Genome Editing techniques and the main narratives underlying the public debate.
Despite the many changes our society has undergone in the last century, agriculture remains an essential activity for human survival. For this reason, among the many changes that Europe will have to face to adapt to the sustainability required by the European Green Deal, agriculture and food production are among the most affected activities.
The agricultural sector emissions still amount to more than 10% of the total greenhouse gas emitted in the European Union, despite a 20% reduction in the 25 years from 1990 to 2015. Given the ambitious objectives that the Commission has set for 2050, a change of pace in reducing the environmental footprint associated with this sector is necessary. Technology and innovation could hence be the trump card in supporting the transition to a new model. This model will also have to be more attentive to the needs of small and medium-sized farmers, who constitute the backbone of European agriculture.
Aiming to explore all the different possibilities, Re-imagine Europa (RIE) has assembled a Task Force of more than 70 experts, including scientists, policymakers and specialists representing all the main stakeholders involved in the public debate. Genome editing was selected as the first topic for the Task Force’s work as it could offer a concrete possibility of significantly reducing land use by developing new varieties that are more productive and resilient and less dependent on fertilisers and pesticides for their survival.
However, the topic remains highly controversial in public debate, with different segments of society offering conflicting visions for the future of agriculture, in particular concerning genome editing. Precisely for this reason, Re-Imagine Europa introduced a pioneering element in the work of its Task Force. Professor Andrzej Nowak, one of the founders of dynamical social psychology and a leading expert on the modelling and computer simulation of social processes, and his team used narrative analysis to better understand the roots of the polarization and to see how we could move beyond the current polarized debate.
The analysis was carried out by Professor Nowak’s team, led by Dr Marcin Napiórkowski. The resulting report “Beyond the Apple of Discord: Existing Narratives and Ways Forward” shows that despite the differences, values and objectives which lie behind the different strategies are noticeably similar. Therefore, Professor Nowak’s analysis confirms there is an opportunity to compromise between the diverse visions. Any success in bridging that gap can constitute fertile ground for the evolution of agriculture towards a much needed functional model for the twenty-first century.
The second report presented, the “White Paper on the Regulation of Genome Editing in Agriculture“, focuses on the possible Policy Options to regulate the research and development of plants derived from new genomic techniques (NGTs). The report has been prepared in the context of the current discussions on the legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According to a study the Commission published in April 2021, the current regulation should be amended to be more resilient, future-proof and uniformly applied.
The technical analysis of the various policy options was coordinated by RIE’s team led by Special Advisor Dr Peter Kearns, geneticist and former principal administrator at the OECD, working closely with Dr Oana Dima from EU SAGE. The two presented reports have been conceived as complementary. They aim to imagine a solution to reconcile the need for innovation that agriculture must undergo to improve environmental protection with the social and cultural values that distinguish the European vision of this ancient activity.
Much work remains to be done to build a new vision of agriculture that contributes to the goals set by the Commission with the European Green Deal and the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Re-Imagine Europe is confident that the small contribution made by these publications can nevertheless be influential in defining the strategy to implement the necessary changes.
The Re-Imagine Europa team sincerely thanks all the experts involved in the work of the Task Force for their commitment and looks forward to the next meeting, which will be held at the beginning of next autumn.