Europe’s leading plant scientists call for urgent action to defend research

More than twenty of Europe’s most prominent plant scientists today signed a joint letter warning that Europe may lose its research lead unless plant science is adequately funded, GM (genetically modified) plant varieties that have been found safe are allowed and field trials are protected from vandalism.

The signatories include world-leading plant scientists from Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden, all of whom are concerned that Europe may fall short on its current ‘Horizon 2020′ goals of producing “world-class science” and removing “barriers to innovation” unless European policymakers take a more pro-science stance.

The scientists, world-leaders in disciplines ranging from botany to ecology to molecular biology, state that the current EU “de facto moratorium on transgenic plant approvals has been detrimental for applied plant science and has effectively eliminated possibilities for publicly funded scientists and small companies to address the big challenges for society”.

The open letter continues that “the resulting reduced competition has enhanced the dominance of major seed and agrochemical corporations” and calls for a “fundamental revision of GM regulation… that strictly follows the principles of science-based evaluations and approvals”. This call is particularly timely because the European Parliament is currently considering European Council proposals to allow GM crop cultivation in those countries that choose to allow it.

The letter also warns that “in most European countries permits to perform field experiments with transgenic plants are blocked, not on scientific but on political grounds”, and that where field experiments are permitted “these are often systematically vandalised, causing huge scientific and financial losses”, hampering scientific efforts to tackle agricultural pests and respond to climate change. They reveal that “some of us have even been threatened and had private property vandalized”.

Stefan Jansson, Umeå University, Sweden, who has coordinated the effort, says: “It is popular these days for campaigners to start petitions or send joint letters but this is not just any list of plant scientists, nor is it a list of scientists with links to industry who some might say ‘would say that anyway’. The most influential plant scientists – based on the “standard currency” for measuring scientific impact, citations in scientific publications – are concerned that European basic and applied plant science may be relegated to a second tier status. Politicians that choose to ignore this message cannot in the future say that they take science seriously.

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