UK House of Lords Inquiry into Innovation in EU Agriculture

The UK House of Lords select committee inquiry into Innovation in EU Agriculture was published on 7 July 2011. The aim of the inquiry was to establish how innovation in EU agriculture can be encouraged in relation to the EU’s new Strategy for Growth and Jobs, Europe 2020, and in the context of new challenges such as climate change, water scarcity and the need to encourage increased production and competitiveness in a sustainable way.

“…the European Governments must see as the prime focus of agricultural policy the need to raise productivity, while supporting environmental sustainability. Innovation must be at the heart of this effort.”

Building on the findings of an earlier inquiry into Adapting to climate change: EU agriculture and forestry that highlighted innovation as a key step in meeting these challenges, the current inquiry draws on both written and oral evidence collated from 55 different institutions and individuals across the EU including the European Commission (EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolo?), MEPs (COMAGRI Chair Paolo De Castro), NGOs, industry representatives and individuals. Responses were not limited to UK and EU institutions and included evidence received from the US Department of Agriculture.

The report provides a series of recommendations and conclusions that range from the need for a more strategic approach to food production, an increased focus on research and knowledge transfer, to revisions to EU policy and regulation .Of particular interest in relation to the on-going debate on the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the report calls for a number of developments. Under the heading of EU policy and regulation the report calls for:

  • Payments under Pillar 1 to be made in return for the delivery of public goods but in a way that does not lead to further bureaucratic complexity. This needs to include better knowledge transfer systems and more advice to farmers.
  • Support for innovation-related projects to be central to support provided under Pillar 2 with flexibility in approach to encourage innovation in relation to all forms of agricultural material, whether food or not, and a higher rate of co-financing to support innovation. The report suggests that ‘such an increase in financing can be supported, at least in part, by reducing the level of direct payments under Pillar 1’.
  • Better policy coherence between Directorate Generals within the Commission
  • Continued adherence to the precautionary principle to underpin food safety and security.
  • A streamlining of the EU decision-making procedures on appropriate technologies for productivity, sustainability, and competitiveness.
  • The promotion of high animal welfare standards that are mutually supporting to business efficiency.

The context to these recommendations and conclusions and the challenges facing EU agriculture are clearly set out in the report. These include the need to feed an increasing global population (in which improving the productivity of EU agriculture is an important factor), climate change and other environmental pressures as well as the rising demand for public goods from agricultural ecosystems, such as carbon sequestration and the protection of biodiversity. The report concludes that the key challenge is how to achieve ‘sustainable intensification’, a phrase coined from earlier reports for example the Royal Society report, Reaping the benefits, which defines ‘sustainable intensification’ broadly as the production of more food that does not rely on non-renewable inputs or additional land, can consistently deliver desired outputs, and does not cause adverse and irreversible environmental impacts which threaten critical ecological functions.

Although the challenges and the role of innovation are made clear, the report does not go so far as to suggest what should be the focus of such innovation. Instead highlighting wider underlying principles of agricultural research and innovation, including the need for collaboration between Member States, a strategic and flexible approach in order to meet wider challenges, and that this be complemented with suitable knowledge transfer systems, from increasing education at the school level through to farm advice.

In terms of finance the report highlights the discrepancy between the agricultural research funding at the EU level which is less than one per cent of the overall agriculture policy budget, and calls for an increase in financing for research by reducing the proportion devoted to supporting the CAP.

Support for innovation related projects must be central to Pillar 2 and a balance must be ensured between purely agri-environmental projects and funding to support innovation (whilst accepting that the two are often compatible). However, despite the CAP being recognised as needing to play its part in achieving the objectives set out in the Europe 2020 strategy, the report is clear that the current CAP debate is not the main focus of the inquiry.

Support is given in the report to the Commission’s proposal that a higher rate of co-financing could be made available to support innovation-related projects under Pillar 2 with the report going on to suggest that such an increase in financing could be supported by reducing payments made under Pillar 1 and increasing the modulation of funds towards Pillar 2.

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PUBLICATION DATE

04 Aug 2011


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