During Biotech Week, we celebrate the biotechnology sector, its fast-paced innovations and the hardworking people who create them. Life sciences and biotechnology are widely recognised to be - after information technology - the next wave of the knowledge-based economy, creating new opportunities for our societies and economies.
Meanwhile, Europe is also trying to weather the COVID-19 crisis and recover from its effects on citizens’ health and the resilience of its economy. New strategies in the European Green Deal must aim at softening the impact of the pandemic.
Biotechnology can be a useful instrument in this recovery - from new plant breeding methods helping us achieve the targets of the Farm to Fork Strategy, to pharmaceutical and medical technologies playing an essential part in stopping the pandemic.
In agriculture, biotechnology has improved animal feed, produced vaccines for livestock and improved diagnostics for diseases such as BSE, foot-and-mouth disease and salmonella. It has also enabled the use of enzymes to make food processing more efficient and has improved the breeding of plants to obtain specific characteristics.
New methods of plant breeding play a key role in feeding the growing world population, adapting to climate change and protecting natural resources. Currently, innovative techniques allow us to make the desired genetic changes with very high efficiency and precision.
Plants bred with those new technologies can give us greater yields. The new varieties of plants could be more resistant to pests or insects and more tolerant of droughts or flooding. These plants can also have better nutritional quality, more vitamins or fatty acids. We could produce crops that are not as allergenic as usual - for example, wheat with lower gluten levels.
“The pandemic that we are living through has shown us how important it is to make decisions that are based on scientific facts”
Precision breeding can also tailor crops to a specific area by taking into account the environmental factors of a certain region. These kinds of crops can also require lower input, which has a direct benefit for our environment. The pandemic that we are currently living through has shown us how important it is to make decisions based on scientific facts.
It has also shown us how easy it is to politicise facts and how willing some people are to ignore them. If something as simple as wearing a mask can be turned into a political statement, then it is no wonder new technologies can appear scary and dangerous.
We are living in unprecedented times. Climate change is disrupting the ways we farm, while an ever-growing world population needs increasing amounts of food to sustain it. The pandemic has changed our lives, from the way we greet each other to the way we hold meetings and events.
It has had a huge impact on the economy and is worsening the social environment that our citizens find themselves in. COVID-19 has forced us to isolate in our homes, but it has also demonstrated the essential human need of connection and openness, as well as the importance of science and innovation in our daily lives. It has also demonstrated the importance of science-based decisions.
We must fight new problems in new ways and apply new technologies carefully, bearing in mind ethical issues while researching all potential side effects. Yet we should also not fear innovation itself; properly researched, developed and applied technologies can help us both existing problems and new challenges.