WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE?
Globally, food production faces major challenges. Examples are the scarcity of natural resources, including cultivable land, and the changing climate. Moreover, economic growth is contributing to a constant rise in return requirements. To date, biotechnology has usually been discussed as a potential source of environmental problems. Correctly applied, however, it allows environmental impact to be reduced while providing more — and more wholesome — food.
Sweden has the capacity to lead the world in key subsectors, and this would help to boost the competitiveness of Swedish agriculture. To succeed, we need biotech innovations to cut environmental impact and simultaneously meet the stringent safety and ethical standards set by food producers, government agencies and consumers. Research in social sciences and ethics, as well as natural sciences, is therefore necessary.
HOW CAN THE PROGRAMME CONTRIBUTE TO A SOLUTION?
Mistra Biotech has a comprehensive approach to biotechnology in farming and food production. Six subprojects cover every aspect, in terms of ethics and social as well as natural sciences. Throughout the programme period, there will be close collaboration among researchers from various disciplines. The natural science projects will involve studying such questions as how biotech can improve nitrogen efficiency in barley and potatoes. Here, the aim is to cut the use of fertilisers and boost disease resistance. Scope for introducing field cress, a new oleaginous (oil-producing) plant, with properties of interest for the environment and production, will be investigated.
The researchers will also study how the use of genetic information about various crops and animals generally can be facilitated in plant improvement and breeding. Mistra Biotech will also entail study of consumer attitudes to various ‘agri-biotech’ products to obtain a better grasp of the bases of public attitudes towards these products. Other subprojects will involve developing new methods for ethical review and evaluation of biotechnology in farming, and studying economic aspects of agri-biotech products.
WHO WILL BENEFIT FROM THE RESULTS?
A ‘synthesis centre’, with which various interested parties and user groups are associated, will play a central part in Mistra Biotech. Here, programme researchers will get opportunities to communicate with food producers, public agencies and consumer organisations throughout the programme. Mistra Biotech aims to help reduce environmental impact in food production and bring about more sustainable Swedish agriculture. Less nutrient leaching and thereby less eutrophication, more diversity and reduced climate impact are among the outcomes intended for the programme research.
Simultaneously, the programme seeks to help reduce crop diseases and improve animal health. The programme will strengthen Sweden’s international role in biotechnology and help to boost the competitiveness of Swedish farms and food producers.