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The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has not historically included agriculture within the scope of its negotiations, so having a dedicated day for soil health and agriculture at COP27 was a major win for the plant science industry, elevating the role agricultural innovations can play in helping farmers and food systems adapt to and mitigate climate change. The positive momentum generated during COP27 carried forth to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Montreal, where plant science products like pesticides were fairly and accurately recognized for their important role in protecting and enhancing biodiversity. The final landmark agreement encompasses four goals and 23 targets that set an ambitious direction for the private sector, including agriculture, without compromising access to the tools and technologies farmers need to protect biodiversity while maintaining productivity. Also of critical importance was an agreement by Parties to adopt a system that safeguards open access to digital sequence information (DSI), ensures legal certainty and low transactions costs, and addresses physical genetic resources.
Faced with ongoing systemic shocks associated with the pandemic, war, and climate change, food systems were stretched to the breaking point in 2022. Given the fragile nature of global food security, it is important to understand the potential for unintended consequences of sweeping policy reform. New research examined how regional policies, such as the EU’s Green Deal, can negatively impact global food security, and found that innovation is critical in achieving sustainable agriculture goals. The study underscored the necessity of food security as a global policy priority; indicated that more research and data is needed to fully understand the impact of sustainability policies on food insecurity worldwide; and that sustainability standards must be tailored to each country’s specific needs and challenges.
Crops endure extreme heat, drought, and flooding while defending against pests and diseases – problems that will only get more challenging as the climate crisis grows. Innovations in plant biotechnology such as genome editing help plants adapt to evolving environmental stresses, contributing to sustainability in agriculture. Two studies published this year – one from Dr. Stuart Smyth and one from Dr. Daniel Voytas – explored the quantitative impacts that plant biotechnology products have had around climate adaptation and mitigation to date and synthesized the opportunities that genome editing can deliver on in the future. Equally important to the conversation is the next generation of innovators, who shared their unique perspectives on how plant science can accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems.
The world took notice when Mexico announced a proposed GM corn ban, expected to take effect in 2024, which could vastly increase the country’s food insecurity, add $4.4 billion to its corn import costs, and impose costly changes on the US and Canadian farming and grain handling sectors. A 2022 study found that the proposed ban would force North American grain handling systems into two streams (GM and non-GM), an approach that is costlier, disincentivizes innovation, and subjects supply chains to greater volatility. Agricultural value chain partners from Canada, Mexico, and the United States have been working together to educate policymakers and other stakeholders about these far-reaching impacts.
In contrast to the approach taken in Mexico, the Kenyan government lifted its decade-long ban on the import of GM products. This change of direction by the Kenyan authorities is expected to have positive ripple effects across East Africa on the import and use of GM products. Another notable positive development came from China, which announced the approval of six GM crop import applications, including GM alfalfa which had been pending for over a decade. Alongside this unprecedented number of import approvals, cultivation of biotech crops is expected to begin in 2023.
Since 2005, the CropLife global network has worked to remove more than 1 million tonnes of empty plastic pesticide containers; provided stewardship outreach to 30 million farmers across Africa, Asia, and Latin America; and destroyed more than 7,000 tons of obsolete stocks. Countries are also making early and significant progress against Mode of Action (MoA) labelling commitments from the industry, with 18 countries making MoA labelling mandatory in 2022, and eight additional countries committing to do so by 2023. A life cycle approach to product management also includes guarding against counterfeit products, which pose significant risk to productivity, ecosystems, and investment in innovation.
Tested and approved legal pesticides are used to control pests and diseases that attack food crops and form an essential part of sustainable agriculture. Counterfeit and illegal pesticides may contain impurities, untested chemicals, and illegal formulation ingredients, which can negatively impact the environment and human health. Operation Silver Axe VII, Europol’s annual operation targeting illegal pesticides, resulted in 10 arrests and more than 1,000 tonnes of illegal pesticides seized by authorities in 2022. Building off this globally recognized success, the European Anti-Fraud Office is working with the CropLife network to explore expanding Silver Axe to additional regions outside Europe in 2023.
Farmers need access to a broad toolbox to respond to a changing climate that affects both their own farms and the broader landscape. And as has been the case for centuries, innovation in agriculture is crucial in supporting global food production, which has helped us confront critical moments when our food supply is at risk. But to make a difference, these innovations must reach the field. The 2022 Time and Cost to Market report demonstrated that it takes 16.5 years, almost 3.5 years longer than 10 years ago, to get a GM product to market demonstrating that now, more than ever, we need a more harmonized regulatory framework. Equal access to agricultural innovations is becoming a more prominent part of the global conversation as demonstrated at the FAO Science and Innovation Forum, where a panel explored impacts of regulatory barriers and ways they can be broken down, providing a global audience with fresh perspectives on the need for science- and risk-based rules that facilitate trade, food security, and innovation.