Press release - Workshop 'Plants for Human Health'
“Plants for Human Health”
Brussels, 23 May 2018
On May 23rd, the European Technology Platform ‘Plants for the Future’ (Plant ETP), in collaboration with MEP Jasenko Selimović and MEP Julie Girling, organised the workshop “Plants for Human Health” at the European Parliament. The aim was to discuss how plant research and plant breeding could address a shift to healthier food with an improved nutritional quality while at the same time increasing food production and assuring safety at the point of consumption.
The event gathered representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, Member States, and Plant ETP stakeholder experts. This was the fourth event of a series of workshops “Sustainable growth: Unlocking the potential of plants”, which follows a report by former MEP Marit Paulsen on “Plant breeding: what options to increase quality and yields” published in 2014.
In the opening speech, MEP Julie Girling acknowledged the undesirable trend in the consumption pattern of our society, and expressed her strong belief in the potential of plant research and plant breeding stating that “the range of innovation in plant science is massive and essential for our wellbeing”. She also noted that innovation does not only have to be revolutionary, with much progress in plant science simply “getting more out of our existing varieties”.
Dr. Barend Verachtert, the Head of the Agri-Food Chain Unit in DG RTD of the European Commission, highlighted that the future EU framework programme “Horizon Europe” will recognize the urgency to act by specifically earmarking €10 billion for this area to be spend on research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and bioeconomy. Dr Verachtert acknowledged the “need for a system approach to future-proofing food systems” and explained the FOOD 2030 initiative that takes aims to “connect research and innovation from 'farm-to-fork-to-gut-and back'”. Dr Verachtert explained that microbiome may offer the foundation for innovations throughout the food system, such as higher quality plant- and animal-derived products or health-enhancing foods as well novel waste management approaches.
Cathie Martin, professor at the John Innes Centre, drew participants’ attention to socio-behavioural risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, decreasing physical activity and consumption of unhealthy diets, which contribute significantly to the incidence of chronic disease. Prof. Martin stressed the importance of the health-promoting plant-based foods and explained how crops with enhanced levels of specific compounds such as anthocyanins can improve diets. Cathie Martin finished her talk by pointing out the need for “tailoring diverse diets for diverse communities”
In his speech, Dr Andreas Sewing, Head of Research and Development of the Vegetable Seeds unit at Bayer, stressed that “vegetable-based diets deliver benefits to human health while also contributing to a more sustainable food production with reduced environmental impact”. Dr. Sewing pointed out that although “the benefits of a more vegetable based diet are evident and accepted widely, the challenge remains: how to increase consumption”. He explained that responding to consumer needs, such as improved taste, increased access and convenience are often influencing the uptake of certain products and may drive the changes in our everyday food choices in a desired direction.
Michael Hambly, an active farmer from Cornwall and the Vice Chairman of the Copa-Cogeca Cereals Group, explained the producer’s perspective and presented how rapid technological advancement is influencing agriculture: “all farmers strive for the production of wholesome, healthy food that consumers have confidence in. To meet ever increasing demand for sustainable production growers need access to new technology in both plant breeding techniques and products to protect their crops and the quality of them.". Mr Hambly reminded participants that "the potential of plant production to influence health is not just limited to those plants directly consumed. Improvements in forage plants used to feed livestock can influence the final quality and health benefits of the meat, dairy and other produce.” He finished his presentation with a bold statement that “exciting opportunities are available to harness new technology to improve human health through plants. Farmers can deliver this but first the supply chain must establish the market to ensure a fair return to meet the investment by growers.
In the closing remarks, Marc Cornelissen, Chair of the Plant ETP, pointed out that “a challenge in itself is having society develop proximity to ‘the grand societal challenges’ so that they develop an appreciation for the value of long term benefits vis-à-vis the short-term gains of time, expense and convenience”. Mr. Cornelissen concluded that “one of the main complexities the agri-food value chain is facing, is that outsiders tend to think that living up to the expectations on output, diversity, nutritional quality, safety and pricing is relatively straight forward.”
For further information:
Aleksandra Malyska, Executive Manager ETP ‘Plants for the Future’
About ETP Plants for the Future - www.plantetp.org
The European Technology Platform ‘Plants for the Future’ (Plant ETP) is a stakeholder forum for the plant sector that brings together members from industry, academia and the farming community. The industrial sector is represented by the European Seed Association (ESA) which represents itself the totality of the European seed industry (more than 7,000 companies, 90% of which are SMEs) active in research, breeding, production and seed marketing A certain number of individual companies and organisations are also direct members of Plant ETP such as BayerCropScience, Syngenta, Keygene, Limagrain, KWS, Céréales-Vallée, SESVander, HaveTopsector Horticulture & Starting materials and two food processing companies Nestlé and Südzucker. The academic sector is represented by the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO), an independent academic organisation with over 220 research institutes and universities as institutional members and 3,300 Personal Members, representing over 27,000 people working in plant science. The farming sector is represented by Copa-Cogeca, the European organisation for farmers and their cooperatives. Copa represents over 13 million farmers whilst Cogeca represents the interests of 38,000 agricultural cooperatives.