30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/47


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a Community programme on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture’

(COM(2003) 817 final -2003/0321 (CNS))

(2004/C 112/14)

On 13 January 2004 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 37 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 March 2004. The rapporteur was Mr Voss.

At its 407th plenary session of 31 March and 1 April 2004 (meeting of 31 March), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 92 votes to three, with three abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

In 1994 Council Regulation (EC) No. 1467/94 on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture launched a five-year action programme that expired on 31 December 1999. This action programme was the Commission's response to various European Parliament resolutions dating back to the 1980s which had pointed to the problem of genetic erosion and proposed Community initiatives to counter this trend.

1.2

Under this action programme 21 projects were financed, most of which focused on the characterisation of available ex situ genetic resources; gene banks, research institutes and users were the main participants in the projects. Sometimes NGOs were also involved under the aegis of scientific institutions.

1.3

The action programme was evaluated, as planned in the regulation, by a group of independent experts. Their report gave the programme a generally positive assessment, called for the actions to be maintained and strengthened, and contained inter alia the following proposals:

a better balance between ‘plant’ and ‘animal’ projects;

including the concept of in situ/on farm conservation;

meeting the needs of the ecoregions (bio-geographical regions);

more active participation by NGOs;

increased coordination between the Member States and the Commission with regard to negotiations and actions at FAO level;

gearing the projects to broader Member State participation in certain project categories.

1.4

In March 2001 the Commission submitted a proposal for a new Community programme which was, however, subsequently withdrawn, as both the European Parliament and the Council were against the financing of national measures under the EAGGF Guarantee Section. The Commission was to play a more active role in coordinating and implementing the new programme.

1.5

The current proposal for a regulation provides for a three-year Community action programme. Preference will be given to projects involving the use of genetic resources for the following purposes:

diversification of production in agriculture,

improved product quality,

sustainable management and use of natural and agricultural resources,

improved quality of the environment and the countryside,

identification of products for new uses and markets.

1.6

The implementation of the Community programme will focus mainly on targeted actions, but will also involve concerted and accompanying actions.

2.   General comments

2.1

In its Opinion (1) of 24 April 2002 on Commission proposal COM(2001) 617 final, which was subsequently withdrawn, the Committee welcomed the proposal, stressing that ‘the loss of genetic resources in agriculture has been far from halted, so that further efforts are needed (a) to characterise, compile an inventory of and conserve the gene potential and (b) to maintain the utilisation of genetic diversity by farms’.

2.2

The EESC notes that the conservation of genetic resources will become even more important with the accession of ten new Member States. The expected change in farming practices in these countries could damage the exceptional diversity of genetic resources used in agriculture in these regions.

2.3

Our knowledge of the genetic potential of species which are in some cases at high risk or in danger of extinction is still fragmentary. The potential use of multiple and in some cases still unknown qualities is the basis for diversity in agriculture and farming practices tailored to the area.

2.4

There are shortcomings in the recording of gene potential in the databases and in the networking of these databases. The EESC points out that clear rules are needed on the use and economic exploitation of the data collected in the framework of this programme.

2.5

The Committee welcomes the proposal for a regulation's focus on the in-situ conservation and on-farm management of these genetic resources. In this way the regulation is in step with the FAO's 1996 Global Plan of Action (GPA) (2). Here too strong stress on measures of this kind is called for.

2.6

The Committee also welcomes the close attention which the programme pays to the work of NGOs.

2.7

In its Opinion of 25 April 2002 the Committee stated that ‘ in parallel with this scientific approach there is the no less important need to ensure that the diversity of genetic resources continues to be used in farming by promoting environmentally sound practices such as diversity in crop rotation under the second pillar of the CAP’. Comparable measures should be carried out to maintain the use of rare farm animal breeds. Protecting through consumption can be an important part of a new, consciously diverse European food culture.

2.8

The EESC therefore emphasises that the opportunities offered by the second pillar of the CAP for the conservation and use of genetic resources should be more clearly pinpointed and exploited.

3.   Specific comments

3.1

The proposed three-year Community programme 2004-2006 will be financed with a total of IJ10 m. from Heading 3 of the budget (internal policies). The Committee is glad that the Commission will be assuming the necessary active role in implementing the programme. The Committee regards the financial framework as limited compared with the proposal of 22 November 2001 (IJ10 m. annually for five years) and expects funding to be stepped up in 2005.

3.2

The EESC considers that in the longer term the Commission should support and coordinate the necessary activities in the current and future Member States. This would involve not only state-funded programmes and projects but also the numerous NGO networks which play an important part in the maintenance and improved use of genetic diversity in the framework of sustainable farming practices.

3.3

With this regulation the European Community would be complying with some of its commitments under the relevant UN conventions (the FAO's GPA and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio 1992)). The Committee feels that before the programme expires the Commission should submit a proposal for a successor programme. The Commission should continue to provide the necessary human resources for the implementation of the programme.

3.4

The Committee points out that this Community programme takes on particular importance in the light of the Community's negotiations in the WTO on the protection of regional labels of origin and state aid which does not distort competition. It makes a contribution to achieving a multifunctional European agriculture.

3.5

The EESC recognises the particular importance of the implementing regulation for the amended Directives 2002/53-57 and 66/401 on the marketing of seed, which the Commission has announced but not yet submitted. These directives have an impact on access to conservation species and non-commercial species. On the initiative of the Parliament special arrangements for the labelling and marketing of seed were introduced which did not fulfil the relevant certified species criteria. They cannot at present be marketed; there is therefore a danger that they will not be (re)produced and thus conserved. The implementing regulation for these directives has been in preparation since November 2002.

3.6

The EESC considers that the trade category regulations should be checked to ensure that they do not impede the market access of rare plant and animal products.

3.7

It should be ensured that the NGOs are sufficiently involved in the Committee on the conservation, characterisation, collection and utilisation of genetic resources in agriculture provided for in Article 15 of the proposal for a regulation.

3.8

Farmers should also be specifically mentioned in Article 9(2) of the draft regulation.

3.9

The EESC calls on the Commission to draw up two reports on the effects of the CAP answering the following questions:

a.

How can regional development support be arranged so as to ensure that the cultivation of rare plant species and the husbandry of rare animal species is better integrated as part of a multifunctional agriculture and a comprehensive programme for the conservation and utilisation of genetic resources?

b.

What impact do CAP measures have in terms of genetic diversity, and what impact can be expected from decoupling and cross-compliance?

3.10

Even though a work programme has not been submitted for the regulation, the Committee welcomes the detailed objectives set out in the draft.

4.   Summary

4.1

In its proposal for a regulation the Commission already to a large extent takes account of the proposals of the Member States, the Parliament and the EESC on the withdrawn proposal of 22 November 2001. The EESC welcomes the new proposal for a regulation and expects the programme to be rapidly adopted, implemented, evaluated and continued.

Brussels, 31 March 2004

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH


(1)  OJ C 149, 21.6.2002, pp. 11-13

(2)  Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (GPA)