The agri-food future of Europe is at stake in Spain

From July 1, Spain will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU), focusing on strengthening the “open strategic autonomy” of the primary sector through the implementation of new technologies and the discussion of various critical issues. In its role as president, the Spanish Government has among its primary objectives promoting independence in the field of food, as well as in other strategic sectors that include health, energy and technology.

The challenge lies in preventing globalization from negatively affecting the well-being of citizens due to supply difficulties, similar to those observed during the pandemic or the crisis in Ukraine. In response to these adversities, the Government seeks to promote a more resilient agri-food sector, where new technologies will play an essential role.

Government officials have highlighted the relevance of promoting, during the European mandate, the application of emerging technologies in the primary sector, including precision agriculture techniques and biotechnology.

Gene editing is one of the most prominent examples in this field. The European Commission (EC) plans to present in July a proposal on new genomic techniques, which opens the door to the possibility of using gene editing to improve crops against situations of drought, pests and diseases. This strategy could help reduce the use of phytosanitary products and fertilizers.

The moment is crucial, since Spain will hold one of the last rotating presidencies before the end of the mandates of the European Commission and Parliament, which will hold elections in June 2024. Therefore, the promotion of this file is essential so that it can be completed later.

In the context of gene editing, researchers and plant breeding companies have requested authorization of these new techniques at the community level, arguing that they differ from those used to produce transgenics, which are currently blocked in the EU.

At the same time, it is expected that a final agreement will be reached in the next semester on the modification of the regulation of protected geographical indications (PGI), a regulation that has been worked on for a long time. However, products with geographical indications and denominations of origin from Spain view some aspects of the reform with suspicion, in particular the possibility that the European Intellectual Property Office (Euipo) assumes the management of these quality figures.

Regarding the use of pesticides, a particularly controversial panorama is observed. The dossier on the sustainable use of phytosanitary products is to a certain extent stagnant due to a lack of consensus between the Parliament and the Council of the EU. The EC has promised to take measures to halve the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030. However, questions remain about existing alternatives and their impact on production and prices. The Spanish Government advocates continuing to advance in the improvement of the use of phytosanitary products as part of integrated pest management, instead of focusing the debate on a 50% reduction.

Finally, Brussels has yet to present its proposals on the framework initiative for healthy food systems and on the soil health law in the EU, as well as the expected review of the regulation on food information provided to consumers. The latter includes aspects such as homogenization in the indication of the origin of the products, nutritional labeling and that of alcoholic beverages.

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