As we start a new decade in a world driven by social media and half-truths, there is a need to establish the truth about the threats to world sugar production and reconcile these with the potential solutions.
Since 2010 over half of the plant protection active ingredients used on Sugar Beet have been removed. With fewer modes of action available to disrupt resistance from pests, weeds and diseases the effectiveness of the remaining products will diminish. In parallel the number of new PPP registrations have slumped in the EU faced with increasing delays from synthesis to registration which have grown from 8.3 years in 1995 to over 11.3 years today. With more stringent process of PPP (plant protection products) registration means that the development and registration costs have doubled from US$152million in 1995 to $286million by 2014 alone1.
Despite this, the European Food Safety Authority Eurobarometer Survey in 2019 claimed that less than 10% of citizens across, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Sweden perceived there to be a potential risk to crop production from plant diseases in crops (figure 1)!
Figure 1 – Concern over plant diseases in crops.
Source: EFSA Eurobarometer Survey 2019
Meanwhile, Ursula von der Leyen; President of the European Commission launched the “Green Deal” on the 11th December 2019, promising to further reduce pesticide, fertilizer and energy usage through EU legislation, whilst making assurances that “nobody will be left behind”.
The truth is that despite the EU operating a “common agricultural policy”, many countries are being left behind whilst others retain access to technologies; both within and outside the EU. By implication, this will simply displace production to those that can produce a tonne of sugar cheaper than competitors.
Critically, the wider demands for more “sustainable” production globally needs to reconcile this aim with “sustaining” the viability of our industry in the transition, and so ensure food security. The challenge is twofold; firstly, how fast the industry can re-orientate itself in this direction and secondly how it will remain economically viable during the transition.
With more extreme weather and proliferation of pest, weed and disease threats the need for scientific gatherings like the IIRB Congress where the industry exchange ideas and information is vital. Reconciling the diminishing range of crop protection products with a proliferation of threats makes collaboration important, and plant breeding central to the sustainability of food production.
Not surprisingly it means a focus by Institutes on screening existing varieties for “new traits” in the vain hope that something will be discovered that was missed by breeders during the 10 years it takes to develop a variety? With new varieties superseded within a few years, it is inevitable that the focus and resources will need to move upstream to focus scarce resources on developing pre-breeding strategies to deliver solutions.
With the EU promising to review the legislation on new technologies; including the current block on gene editing, the landscape may well be changing. The 1920s were a decade of change, time will tell if the 2020s will follow suit when politicians grasp the truth and address seemingly irreconcilable demands for greater productivity and fewer tools to deliver it?
Ian Munnery, SES VanderHave
1 Farming without plant protection products. EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service, Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) PE 634.416 – March 2019)