Jul. 11, 2022
By Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com
Italian lawmakers have expressed support for the use of genetic modification techniques in agriculture to achieve more resilient crop varieties in light of the heat waves and droughts that are currently affecting Italy and other parts of Europe.
The plea from Italian lawmakers was made on Thursday (7 July) during an exchange with EU Commissioner for Foresight and Interinstitutional Relations Maroš Šefčovič at the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg.
The debate focused on possible adaptation strategies as heatwaves and droughts become more frequent due to climate change.
″Europe will have to be able to address the issue with measures beyond emergency measures,″ said Italian MEP Antonio Tajani, a former EU Commissioner in charge of entreprise and industry.
Tajani asked the Commission for a long-term plan that guarantees water supplies for citizens and farming, as well as to ″liberalise the use of new assisted evolution technologies by untying them from GMO″ rules.
The Italian MEP was referring to so-called new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs), which involve the genetic engineering of plants to enhance traits like drought tolerance and pest resistance.
″New agricultural biotechnology can provide experimentation for more drought- and pest-resistant plants,″ Tajani pleaded, saying these techniques should be dissociated from the EU’s 1999 GMO Directive.
″New agricultural biotechnology can provide experimentation for more drought- and pest-resistant plants,″ said Italian MEP Antonio Tajani. [© European Union 2022 - Source : EP]
Droughts and intense heat are becoming the new normal in southern European countries. Italy has recently declared a state of emergency in five of its northern regions because of the drought.
Italy’s longest river, the Po, has recorded its lowest levels in 70 years while in many municipalities citizens are required to ration their water consumption.
There are other signs of warming in Italy. On Sunday (3 July), parts of the Marmolada glacier in the Dolomites collapsed, killing up to 11 people.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the tragedy is directly linked to climate change. ″This is a drama that certainly has unforeseen elements, but certainly also depends on the deterioration of the environment and the climate situation,″ he said in comments reported by ANSA.
GMOs and new breeding techniques are seen in Italy as a possible solution to the challenges posed by climate change. In Italy, the Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, Stefano Patuanelli, recently called for lifting the ban on the use of GMOs for animal feed after the country’s food sector was hit by shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.
This growing interest was echoed by some Italian MEPs during the European Parliament plenary debate on Thursday (7 July).
″We need the kinds of crops which are more resistant to drought. And that is why we need the forms of genetics, which can be used to that end, and that is why we need to legislate in this Parliament so that we can use these technologies across Europe,″ said Herbert Dorfmann, an Italian centre-right MEP who is an agronomist by training.
In reply, Šefčovič affirmed the Commission’s intention to work alongside EU member states during times of emergency. Faced with climate change, Europe needs to act in the areas of ″climate adaptation, disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness,″ he remarked.
On agriculture, Europe firest needs better water and soil management, the commissioner said.
But it also needs to ″invest, as it was said by many, in drought-resistant crops,″ Šefčovič added, saying this involves ″using our funds under the Research and Innovation [programme] to make sure that we will deploy the best possible technologies, best approaches and the best crops for use in the agriculture″.
Last year, the European Commission published a study which highlighted the potential of new genomic techniques (NGTs) to contribute to the objectives of the European Green Deal, which includes the aim of slashing by half the use and risks of pesticides.
But there are still questions pending as to the distinction that should be made between different genetically engineered crops and their potential contribution to the Green Deal.
In its 2022 Strategic Foresight Report, the European Commission said it expects growing digitalisation in agriculture, with ″bioinformatics″ and ″plant genomics″ both reducing the need for pesticides and fertilisers.