News Release

'Plants for the future': A European vision for plant biotechnology towards 2025

Business Announcement

VIB (the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology)

Today, the "Plants for the Future" European Technology Platform on plant genomics and biotechnology, launches a new era for plant biotechnology in Europe.

This long term vision for 2025 has been created by leading representatives from research (such as EPSO, the European Plant Science Organisation), the food and biotech industry (such as EuropaBio, CIAA, ESA), the farming community (such as COPA/COGECA) and consumer organisations (BEUC). The vision document has been presented to European Commissioner Busquin.

"Our society faces tremendous challenges in the coming decades. There will be an increased demand for healthier, higher quality and more diverse food. The need for animal feed will grow. Agricultural production needs to become more environmentally friendly: maintaining productivity while reducing inputs including water, pesticides, fertilisers, energy. The issue of economical sustainability will necessitate the development of novel biomaterials, bioenergy and renewable resources. Agriculture will also face consequences of climatic changes causing drought and spread of diseases to new areas of Europe and beyond. It is imperative that we enable developing countries to achieve self-sufficiency and become more competitive and, together with North America, to contribute to meeting the growing global food demands," says Marc Zabeau, chair of EPSO.

These immense challenges can be met by prioritizing basic and applied research goals that are tailored to the needs of European society and the agriculture and the food industries. The expertise and capabilities of European plant scientists also need to be effectively harnessed to generate a more profound understanding of plant biology. Together this new set of capabilities and priorities will enable key characteristics such as improved quality and nutrition, sustainable production, safe co-existence, and improved yield, harvestability, processability and environmental stability to be created, Novel public- private partnerships will also need to be created to develop these products and bring them to market.

"EPSO and EuropaBio will develop this Technology Platform in the framework of an EU supported project that started on 1st June 2004. We aim to broaden the stakeholder forum, to articulate the Long Term Strategic Research Agenda 2025 and the Action Plan 2010 and discuss these with member states," says Karin Metzlaff, Director of EPSO. "These activities are also a key step towards implementing a long-term research policy for Europe at European, national and regional levels."

EPSO hopes that this initiative will attract young talented researchers and entrepreneurs as well as public and private funding into this sector of science and industry to the benefit of science and society in Europe and beyond.


For further information, contact:
Karin Metzlaff

Marc Zabeau

Mike Bevan

About EPSO:

1. Background information:

At the initiative of the European Commission, leading representatives from the food and biotech industry, research, farming community and consumers' organisations developed a long-term strategy for European plant biotechnology towards 2025. The outcome is a vision paper on "Plants for the future" which will be presented on 24 June 2004 in Brussels. The 2025 vision paper will form the basis for establishing a technology platform on plant biotechnology in co-operation with all stakeholders.

"European researchers and small companies have pioneered the development of modern plant biotechnology" said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "In recent years, however, European investment in plant genomics and biotechnology has stalled, partly as a result of a lack of communication to the public of the potential benefits of this technology. Defining and implementing a proper regulatory framework has also taken its time. Since this framework is now largely in place we urgently need to take action to reverse the exodus of European researchers and companies and to strengthen the European knowledge base in this area to maintain competitiveness of European agro-food and related industries".

A Green Economy

The vision paper stresses the huge economic importance of plants and plant derived products in Europe in terms of turnover and employment of related industries:

  • There are nearly 7 million farms, with an average size of 18.4 hectares and employing nearly 15 million people, in the 15 older EU Member States (EU15). With enlargement, the number of farms has more than doubled to 17 million, and the proportion of farmers in the workforce has grown from around 4% (EU15) to nearly 8% (EU25).
  • Livestock production in Europe consumes 400 million tonnes of feed, including grazing land, of which 90% is produced in Europe.
  • The EU25 food and drink is the leading EU industrial sector with close to €700 billion annual turnover and employing about 3 million Europeans.
  • The European seed market, worth €8.4 billion annually, is the largest regional market (30% of the global market)/
  • European forestry and its related industries employ more than 3.5 million people with an annual turnover of over €200 billion.
  • Europe currently accounts for only 10% of the fast-growing markets for crop-derived fibres and raw materials, which increased globally from 50.9 to 70 million tons over the past five years.

"Advances in plant biotechnology research will have a strong impact both on the future competitiveness and the sustainability of these important European industries" said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.

Towards a sustainable European agriculture and knowledge-based bio-economy

The "Plants for the future" vision paper not only stresses the economic importance of plants and plant derived products, but also outlines important challenges at European and global levels that calls for renewed attention to plants:

  • A growing world population coupled to an increasing demand for a high quality, safe and diverse food supply, and the need to ensure this demand is met in a sustainable manner under the constraints of limited availability of land, of climate change and seasonal instabilities.
  • The limited availability of fossil resources and its negative impact on climate and human health which calls for a replacement of fossil-fuel based non-renewable products with bio-products from renewable plant resources.

"The transition to a sustainable knowledge based bio-economy utilising renewable plant resources for both food and non-food products is as inevitable as it is desirable", said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.

The vision paper highlights the important role of scientific and technological progress in plant biotechnology and genomics in achieving this transition, in particular the need to create a new generation of crop plants that are more drought resistant and stress tolerant, and crops with the potential for increased productivity, with reduced inputs as fertilisers, pesticides and water, to ensure long-term sustainability.

An ambitious research agenda

Research into plant genomics – handled with appropriate caution and public support – can result in major benefits over the coming decades. Through well-targeted basic research into plant genomics and its biotechnological applications, we believe it is possible to:

  • Secure a healthy, high quality food/feed supply
  • Improve plant yield potential and security
  • Increase the amount of useful plant matter
  • Improve biodiversity in the farmed landscape
  • Improve the genetic diversity of crop plants
  • Reduce the environmental impact of agriculture
  • Enhance crop monitoring
  • Improve crop co-existence
  • Develop renewable materials
  • Develop more efficient bio-fuels

Roadmap and milestones

The Plants for the Future platform should promote basic research in the field of plant genomics and biotechnology. It should focus on EU-grown crops, develop applied research programmes in the agro-food domain, and launch novel product-oriented R&D projects. We recommend the following research milestones on the road map to improve the sector:

Short and medium-term (to 2015)

  • Create integrated programmes in basic plant science with a European dimension to support long-term strategic goals.
  • Initiate coherent basic plant genomics research programmes for the major EU-grown crops: cereals, grain legumes, solanaceous species, major oil-producing plants, and fruit and wood-producing trees
  • Launch research programmes aimed at exploiting the knowledge flowing from plant genomics and biotechnology to improve the sustainability of production, co-existence, yield, harvestability, storability and processability of the major EU-grown crops
  • Develop research programmes focused on improving the nutritional contents of food and feed crops
  • Promote public/private partnerships to explore the development of novel agricultural, food, energy and biomaterials products

In the medium and long-term (to 2025)

  • Establish a comprehensive genomics knowledge base for all economically and strategically important crops grown in the EU and their related genetic resources
  • Develop enhanced phenotyping tools and modelling methods for exploiting the genetic diversity of important EU crops
  • Promote public/private partnerships to develop superior crop varieties which meet the requirements for sustainable production in an environmentally friendly manner, while satisfying consumer preference for healthy and safe food
  • Form collaborative programmes with developing countries on crop genomics to promote self-sufficiency, greater sustainability and competitiveness.

Europe's strategic priorities

The stakeholders involved in drawing up the vision paper have identified three major strategic priorities for Europe:

  • Produce better quality, healthy, affordable, diverse food offering consumers in and beyond Europe new options to improve their quality of life.
  • Bring about environmental and agricultural sustainability, including the production of biomaterials, bio-energy and renewable resources.
  • Enhance the competitiveness of European agriculture, industry and forestry by establishing integrated basic research projects at a European scale, to create the foundations for future prosperity.

The stakeholders call for the development and implementation of an ambitious and detailed strategic research agenda in co-operation with policy makers at EU, national and regional level and other interested parties. Cornerstones of this research agenda are a better understanding of plant metabolism, improved genetic diversity of crop plants, improved co-existence and the development of renewable biomaterials and more efficient bio-fuels.

"Towards a European technology platform for plant biotechnology"

"The "Plants for the future" vision is very much in line with the EU's objectives of becoming the most competitive and sustainable knowledge-based economy by 2010" said Commissioner Busquin. "The March 2003 European Council explicitly called for the strengthening of the European research and innovation area to the benefit of all in an enlarged Europe by creating technology platforms bringing together all relevant stakeholders to develop a strategic agenda for leading technologies, among them plant genomics. This vision paper is an early milestone towards realising this recommendation."

Stakeholders, policy makers at all levels and other interested parties are invited to participate in the advisory council and working groups of the platform, which will become fully operational in the second half of 2004 and which will be supported by a joint secretariat of EPSO, EuropaBio and the European Commission.

The mandate of the technology platform and its working groups will be to develop a coherent strategic research agenda and detailed action, which is expected to be available by the end of 2004.

2. Signatories (stakeholders and high level personalities) supporting the vision are: (ask the secretariat at 32-9-331-3810 for phone numbers).

Philippe BUSQUIN, EU Research Commissioner
Feike SIJBESMA, President of EuropaBio, DSM board member
Marc ZABEAU, President European Plant Science Organisation, EPSO
Jim MURRAY, Director BEUC
Mohamed H.A. HASSAN, Executive Director of the Third World Academy of Sciences
Federico MAYOR, former Director-General of UNESCO, Autonomous University of Madrid, President of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, ES
Jean MARTIN, President of CIAA
Eggert VOSCHERAU, President of Cefic, Vice-chair of the board BASF
Jochen WULFF, former CEO of Bayer CropScience
Pierre PAGESSE, Presidium Member of COGECA President of Limagrain (FR)
Ricardo SERRA ARIAS, Vice-President of COPA, Vice-President of ASAJA (ES)
Sten MOBERG, President European Seed Association, CEO Svalöf Weibull Seed Group (SE)
Andrzej LEGOCKI, President of the Academy of Sciences, Poland
Richard B. FLAVELL, CSO of Ceres (USA), former Director of John Innes Centre (UK)
Christiane NÜSSLEIN-VOLHARD, German Nobel Prize laureate
Peter GRUSS, President Max Planck Society, DE
Tim HUNT, UK Nobel Prize laureate
Marion GUILLOU, Director-General of INRA, FR
Peter FOLSTAR, Director of the Netherlands Genomics Initiative, NL & Coordinator of ERA-NET Plant Genomics

3. The members of the drafting group of the vision are: (ask the secretariat at 32-9-331-3810 for phone numbers).

Simon Barber (EuropaBio)
Indridi Benediktsson (European Commission)
Simon Bright (Syngenta, UK)
Michel Caboche (INRA, FR)
Bernard Convent (Bayer, BE)
Dick Flavell (Ceres, US)
Hans Kast (BASF, DE)
Beate Kettlitz (BEUC)
Waldemar Kütt (European Commission)
Markwart Kunz (Südzucker, DE)
Chris Lamb (JIC, UK)
Etienne Magnien (European Commission)
Karin Metzlaff (EPSO)
Jim Murray (BEUC)
Christian Patermann (European Commission)
Vincent Pétiard (Nestle, FR/CIAA)
Christophe Roturier (ARVALIS, FR)
Joachim Schiemann (Federal Biological Research Centre, DE)
Ralf-Michael Schmidt (BASF, DE)
Lothar Willmitzer (MPIMP, DE)
Frank Wolter (ESA, DE)
Marc Zabeau (VIB, BE)

4. Web sites:

The text of the vision paper will be available on the following websites from 12pm 24th June on:


For the biotechnology action plan and progress reports of the European Commission please see: and press release (IP/04/531 of 23 April 2004).

For the thematic priority on "food quality and safety" in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) see also: For the thematic priority on "life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health" in FP6 see also:

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