Innovations for Modern Farming
Arguments and Positions
The world population will grow to 10 billion by 2050. The demand for agricultural commodities is forecast to double, compared with the turn of the millennium. As arable land is naturally scarce, the only way to meet the demand for high-quality supplies to the constantly growing world population is for farmers to produce more on the same area of land. The keys for this include innovative plant protection products and mineral fertilisers.
Furthermore, digital technologies increasingly help make modern agriculture as efficient and resource-friendly as possible.
Higher productivity – less land
Today, modern agricultural practices in Germany help produce double the yields in major crops (such as wheat or potatoes) compared to organic farming which refrains from using any chemicals. On the other side of the equation: In a total changeover to organic farming in Germany, farmland would have to double if production volumes were to be kept at today’s levels. Modern, productive agriculture needs less of scarce resources.
But the life science industry is faced with rising regulatory obstacles in its efforts to safeguard the food security for the future by way of innovations.
Inefficient regulatory processes
The EU has the strictest rules worldwide for approval and authorisation of active substances and plant protection products: The Member States may only authorise products with active substances which underwent a stringent registration process at EU level. But particularly in Germany – one of the major centres of competence globally in plant protection – there are shortcomings in implementation. An audit performed for the EU Commission has shown that the competent German public authorities do not meet the legally defined timeframe. There is an "authorisation backlog" which is going to become even more severe in the medium term, as numerous active substances are coming up for reapproval in the EU. The authorisation of plant protection products has developed into the proverbial eye of the needle and thus into a competitive disadvantage for German farmers.
- A well-functioning authorisation system for plant protection products in Germany
The authorisation of plant protection products in Germany remains in need of reform. It is true that more applications were decided most recently, but neither was the "authorisation backlog" worked off lastingly nor can be said whether it will be possible to process applications for innovative products according to given deadlines in the time to come. Beside additional staff for the regulatory authorities (the federal government has already agreed on this in its coalition agreement), in the future there should be only one institution which performs science-based assessments for all fields of testing and reports to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture.
- Remedy obvious shortcomings in the European plant protection legislation
Political considerations must not prevail in approval and authorisation decisions. Glyphosate is a precedent of the increasing politicization of regulatory procedures. The European Commission has launched a work programme to review the European legislation on plant protection products and maximum pesticides residues (REFIT). In this context, the obvious shortcomings of existing regulation need to be tackled in a determined manner. More focus should be given on European harmonisation in the authorisation of plant protection products, efficiency increases and the driving forward of innovations. Industry urgently needs a reliable framework for planning.
- Do not throttle innovation with over-regulation
Costs for the development and market launch of one active substance in plant protection have almost doubled within 20 years: In the period from 1995 to 2014 they rose to approx. 251 million euros. Regulatory costs alone have tripled since 2000. Meanwhile, the average time from the first synthesis of a new substance to the first placing on the market is 11.3 years. Probably, an innovative substance discovered today will unfold its effect only in the late 2020s. The German federal government should advocate vis-à-vis the EU that research and development are no longer obstructed by test requirements remote from reality.