Dr. Anne Glover, the European Union's first chief scientific adviser, said when she got the job that her first priority was to stop letting environmental pressure groups suppress science. Modern Europe fears what is new, is consumed with a naturalistic fallacy, and in addition engages in persecution of scientists (such as when they don't predict an earthquake) not seen in hundreds of years.

It's going to be a crippling problem. Plant pests and diseases have always evolved and picking an arbitrary point in time and declaring that science development must stop there will bring devastating results.

A new report from EASAC, the European Academies' Science Advisory Council, the leading provider of independent scientific advice to Europe's policy-makers, describes the combined threat to crops and forests and wider ecosystems, with implications for human health. In economic terms, billions of euros could be at stake and the environmental impact may be irreversible. Glover welcomed the report and promised to study the recommendations as a matter of urgency.

The European Commission has already acknowledged the problem by upgrading certain existing protective measures against plant pests and diseases. However, EASAC wants to see these accompanied by broader policy development and strategic action across:

  • Improved surveillance systems - for example, new forms of monitoring, collection and sharing of standardised data, and extension of surveillance systems to natural habitats.
  • Stronger research push - including fundamental research to understand mechanisms of disease and disease resistance.
  • Innovative thinking – addressing the limitations of current crop protection chemical approaches, breeding improved crops and using sound science to inform regulation.

"Despite the scale of the problem highlighted in the "Risks to Plant Health" report, we firmly believe that science and technology can provide answers," says Professor Jos van der Meer, President of EASAC. "However, we need a coordinated approach. In particular, the report describes how research advances can bring new opportunities within reach regarding procedures for pest control and breeding improved plant varieties with resistance to biotic stresses."

Finally, In line with previous reports on controversial scientific issues, EASAC stresses that public awareness of the associated scientific, environmental, economic and strategic issues is crucial.