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Use of modern agricultural technologies is essential to avert impending consequences of overpopulation

Bayer MaterialScience AG : 18 May, 2006  (Company News)
In his opening speech, Dr. Rüdiger Scheitza, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience AG, talked about the role of agriculture in our society. “Sustainable farming produces high-quality food, feed and renewable raw materials. It also makes a significant contribution to environmental objectives such as protecting soil and water quality, maintaining biodiversity and preserving landscapes. This makes it an important element in society,” he stressed. Added Scheitza, “More intensive use of modern agricultural technologies such as seed treatment or plant biotechnology is essential if we are to avert the impending consequences of overpopulation.”

Bayer CropScience with serious concerns about revision of EU Directive 91/414

In this context, Dr. Scheitza urged politicians to create dependable underlying conditions for successful, future-oriented research work. Product registration in particular has become increasingly complex, with growing volumes of bureaucratic work as a result of burgeoning legal requirements. “We have some serious concerns about the proposed revision of EU Directive 91/414, as it places research-based companies at a disadvantage,” said Scheitza in regard to the planned revision of the directive for the re-evaluation of crop protection agents. For example, the current draft stipulates a shortened period of data protection, reduced from 15 to ten years, for new active substances, while the original developers of already registered, patent-free active substances will lose all data protection. In addition, it is planned to scrap the possibility of preliminary national registration. In future, the precondition for registration of a crop protection agent will be Annex I listing, which is valid EU-wide.

Given the background of increasing resistances, the wide-spread prevalence of numerous economically relevant crop diseases and in view of stricter regulatory requirements, the development of new, efficient active substances with improved environmental properties is more necessary than ever before. Bayer CropScience relies on its outstanding research pipeline. Since 2000, for example, 16 new active substances have been launched, with another 10 scheduled to follow from 2006 to 2011. Bayer CropScience holds the view that politics must also help to ensure that discussions on topics such as genetic engineering or food safety are conducted on an objective level. “Bayer CropScience believes that plant biotechnology has great potential for innovation, both in regard to new, health-promoting foods and in the production of sustainable raw materials,” said Scheitza, underlining the economic significance of plant biotechnology.

Overpopulation and drought threaten prosperity

Lester Brown, founder and President of the Earth Policy Institute, Washington, USA, talked about the topic of “The fast changing world food prospect”. Brown graphically outlined the consequences of overpopulation and warned the audience about the struggle for resources. For example, it is expected that the global population will grow by 3 billion by 2050. These people will have to be fed, which will further intensify the food and water shortages that are already prevalent in large parts of the world. Using China as an example, Brown demonstrated how further increases to the standard of living in threshold countries will also have consequences for the Western world.

EU promotes biotechnology

Christian Patermann, Director of the EU’s Research Directorate-General in Brussels, Belgium, explained the European Union’s strategy for Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) and the various technology platforms. Patermann pooled all industries involved in the production or processing or biological (sustainable) resources, such as agriculture, the food industry, fishing and forestry, together as the “Bioeconomy”. According to Patermann, annual bioeconomy sales in Europe amount to approximately €1,500 billion. His presentation focussed on the role of research, in particular in the fields of plant biotechnology and sustainable raw materials. Patermann demonstrated how science can make a contribution to economic growth, employment and sustainable development in this regard.

Food production is a significant economic factor in Europe

Dr. Jan Maat, Chairman of the Operational Committee of the European Technology Platform “Food for Life”, talked about food production in Europe. This industry generated sales of €840 billion and employed some 4.1 million people in 2005. Dr. Maat believes that the challenge to science will involve investigating the connections between dietary habits on the one hand, and their effects on metabolic, immune and gastric functions on the other. He also sees a link between eating habits and the performance of the human brain. Jan Maat even believes that it is possible to develop foods with special, health-promoting properties that could possibly even boost life expectancy.

Risk communication gaining strong significance

The title of the presentation by David Ropeik, Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, USA, was “The risk perception gap: Why our fears don’t match the facts.” In these times of unparalleled technical progress, many people believe that new technologies represent a threat to health and the environment.

According to Ropeik, the problem arising from this distorted risk perception is that it can disrupt or even prevent the development and introduction of new technologies to solve problems. Open, objective and trustworthy risk communication can help to minimize this discrepancy between “perceived” and “real” risks.

Assess risks and exploit the opportunities inherent in new technologies

Scientists from Bayer CropScience presented examples of responsible care of the environment and measures to protect animals living in the wild. Their work includes the development of new formulations and application methods to improve the efficacy and environmental compatibility of new products. Modern technologies make a crucial contribution towards making crop protection agents even safer for both users and consumers. These developments, exemplary for the great innovative capacity at Bayer, have also produced new approaches to problems, which were then elucidated in the following podium discussion.

Many of the participants took the opportunity to ask the speakers questions and outline their own personal positions. Over the course of his presentation, Dr. Scheitza made it clear that Bayer CropScience actively promotes open debate on the role of science in our society. “I am convinced that only by means of open dialog will we be able to increase the level of acceptance of innovative technologies such as plant biotechnology. After all, only widespread application of new technologies will help us to master the major challenges of the future.”

Bayer CropScience, a subsidiary of Bayer AG with annual sales of some EUR 6 billion, is one of the world’s leading innovative crop science companies in the areas of crop protection, seeds and green biotechnology, as well as non-agricultural pest control. The company offers an outstanding range of products and extensive service backup for modern, sustainable agriculture and for non-agricultural applications. Bayer CropScience has a global workforce of about 19,000 and is represented in more than 120 countries.
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