Corteva, the agricultural division of Dow Dupont will become an independent company next year. It has 22,000 staff, more than 7,000 of which are researchers and generates $14bn (£10.6bn)/annum, according to Eric Defeudre, Corteva Northern Europe leader.
“It is about 50:50 seeds and crop protection. Gene editing will be the future revolution in agriculture as it is faster to add specific traits in a plant and Corteva is a significant player in this area.”
Despite the recent European Court ruling that gene editing would be subject to the same laws as genetic modification, Mr Defeudre said it remains a priority for the company. “It is one of few revolutionary tools if we want to change agriculture in a more sustainable way. We have social pressure, government pressure and without changing genetic potential it will very difficult to maintain productivity.
“I think the court decision is more about them saying they cannot really decide and are relying on individual countries to have an opinion.
“If we reduce use of chemical pesticides, either we reduce production and accept this will come with a cost, or improve the genetics of the plant so it is more tolerant to pests and we can’t do this without gene editing.”
CRISPR [gene editing] technology is widely accepted for development of pharmaceuticals, says Mr Defuedre. “I don’t know why there is such emotion concerning its use in agriculture.
“I believe if we go in the direction to over-regulate new breeding techniques we are putting European farming at a significant competitive disadvantage to the rest of the world.
“Corteva is so convinced this is a technology revolution that we are creating an open collaborative platform to share techniques, involving universities and small companies.
“We cannot afford not to have the technology going forward to meet agronomic needs.”
Speaking about Brexit, Mr Defeudre said questions remained over whether import duties would apply, regulation of products – whether the UK would continue to follow European guidelines or develop its own and what it would mean for the registration of new products.
“Also what will it mean for the UK farming community and the export of its products from the UK?”
He also questioned what the departure of the UK from the EU would mean for the EU. “While the UK has been part of the EU system it has put rational, science-based input into the debate. With the UK out of the EU what will be the consequences for the remaining countries of losing a rational voice?”
Mr Defeudre said that the company had no plans to discriminate against the UK in terms of new product availability. “All products launched in Europe will have a launch phase for the UK providing its political and regulatory system will allow us to operate.”