As 2023 comes to a close, I would like to recap on what the year brought us, the challenges we faced and the successes that will pave the way for 2024.
The recently concluded COP 28 discussions issued a declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action, in which 158 heads of state committed to various actions to drive change by integrating agriculture and food systems into their national plans for climate adaptation and biodiversity management within 2 years. It is encouraging that the transition to sustainable agriculture with associated benefits for soil health and biodiversity are now centre stage. Indeed, we see this drive in the work of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Union with their increasing focus on biocontrol.
I would like to thank members for their continued contributions to IBMA. For IBMA, 2023 has been dominated by the work on the European Commission’s 2022 proposal for a Sustainable Use Regulation. Following discussions with the EU Commission in late 2022, IBMA members shared their biocontrol development plans with IBMA, so that IBMA could submit a consolidated version of the biocontrol pipeline to the EU Commission in March 2023. This information was subsequently referred to in the July 5th 2023 Supplemental Study for Council (Article 241), which outlined the EU Commissions’ recommendations for fast tracking biocontrol. Several of these recommendations were included as amendments to the European Parliamentary text for the Sustainable Use Regulation (SUR).
Unfortunately, due to last minute changes in political heart, the SUR was rejected by the European Parliament in November 2023. However, it remains under discussion in the Council of the European Union – but will now be delayed in progressing in the European Parliament. While the rejection of the SUR by Parliament was a setback for biocontrol progress in Europe, biocontrol has been moved to the centre of the debate. The 5th July document clearly states the EU Commission’s support and during the voting on SUR in the European Parliament, all amendments relating to biocontrol and its prioritisation were approved. IBMA is now working with the EU Commission and the EU Council to develop a route to ensure this widespread political support for biocontrol can be translated into action for the industry and fast track the authorisation of biocontrol. The Belgian Presidency has planned a discussion on biocontrol within the context of progressing the SUR file during their Presidency in early 2024.
Member inputs at a technical and marketing level have also been key during 2023. The EU Commission Biopesticide Working Group which includes competent authorities from each of the Member States, EFSA and stakeholder representatives, has been working on the technical details of data requirements and guidance for biocontrol and low risk. IBMA Professional Groups together with the Secretariat have inputted extensively into this group, information that has been appreciated by the EU Commission.
At a marketing level, the importance of amplifying the IBMA message via social media has been noted and visibility according to social media metrics has increased by an order of magnitude.
We have also seen a marked increase in completion of the industry survey with a response rate approaching 70%. This survey is very important in showing policy makers the size and relevance of our industry, which is crucial to giving biocontrol sufficient priority in the eyes of policy makers. Each contribution counts; so, thank you to all members who completed the survey, and I look forward to the response rate increasing even further in 2024.
OECD meetings in early March 2023, where IBMA has Observer status, gave IBMA members the opportunity to discuss potential guidance document revisions and projects with authorities on making regulation more fit for purpose for biocontrol. OECD guidance is a reference point for many countries worldwide, so their regulatory guidance is a key factor in regulatory advancement in OECD countries and beyond.
In closing, I thank the Board, the Council, the Professional Groups, the National Groups and the Secretariat for their hard work and valuable contributions in 2023. I thank Vice President Roma Gwynn for everything she has done in the last six years and welcome Alessandra Moccia as IBMA’s new Vice President from January 2024.
In 2024, IBMA will continue to push for inclusion of biocontrol legislation in the 2024-2029 work programme for the new EU Commission. We will keep biocontrol at the centre of the debate in Europe and beyond, with a renewed focus on our global links.
I look forward to working with all of you in 2024 and wish everyone a prosperous year.
Jennifer Lewis, IBMA Executive Director