Full house at Macfrut, Rimini Expo Centre halls packed with visitors
Rimini, May 2023 – the second day of Macfrut – Fruit & Veg Professional Show, the international trade fair for the fresh produce industry, was a huge sold-out success. Many events took place throughout the day, including initiatives organised by exhibitors and focus sessions at the Themed Exhibitions held as part of this event dedicated to fruit and vegetables.
The sustainability of medicinal plant production
The major challenge facing the industry today is being able to meet ever-increasing market demand through sustainable production and supply chains that can ensure reliable quality for consumers while protecting the ecosystem. This issue was addressed at the conference ‘The Sustainability of Medicinal Plant Production’ held as part of the Spices & Herbs Global Expo, the first exhibition in Europe dedicated to the supply chain of spices and aromatic plants, which brought together industry experts.
At the beginning of the conference, the moderator Demetrio Benelli, Director of the magazine ‘Erboristeria Domani’, stated that the market for medicinal herbs has always been a global one: throughout history, plants have travelled the world, but production environments vary greatly from location to location.
Ann Armbrecht, Director of the Sustainable Herbs Program, who presented a toolkit on sustainability best practices for the botanical industry, explained that ‘there are differences when it comes to soils and the level of mechanisation for harvesting and storage, and this affects the areas concerned and workers involved in different ways’.
Emily King, Business Engagement Officer at FairWild Foundation, drew attention to the decrease in the number of herb pickers globally and the resulting need to preserve a unique cultural and landscape heritage. She also presented a universal certification based on fair trade and ecological sustainability principles that was established by her Foundation with the aim of reversing this trend.
Ákos Máthé, Professor Emeritus of Botany at the Széchenyi István University in Budapest, emphasised the need to prioritise the consumer experience with regard to the quantity, quality, efficacy and safety of medicinal herbs. He also stressed that medicinal herbs are the main health resource for 80% of the world’s population (WHO data). He also referred to what had already been acknowledged at the international conference on the conservation of medicinal herbs that took place in Chiang Mai back in 1988: ‘saving herbs is necessary to save life’.
Promoting varieties in fruit growing, between messianic expectations and piracy: a realistic approach
All industry segments need to work together at a national level, from producers to certification bodies, through to breeders and on to the final stage, the one closest to consumers, i.e. retail, so as to continue to fight variety piracy effectively and efficiently: this emerged from the round table ‘Promoting Varieties in Fruit Growing, between Messianic Expectations and Piracy: a Realistic Approach’, which was held as part of the Plant Nursery and Varietal Innovation Exhibition. This statement was made by several players in the agri-food and certification industry who, during discussions, stressed the importance of defending multiplication rights and the legal protection of intellectual property rights relating to genetic material for the purpose of varietal improvement.
In particular, everyone highlighted the fact that ‘European legislation is in place and, especially in Italy, we seem to have one of the most modern laws in the world, but unfortunately this is not enough’. Nevertheless, supply chain representatives were keen to analyse this realisation in order to take stock of the situation. Professor Daniele Bassi of the in University of Milan, who moderated the round table, commented that this event turned out to be ‘a very informative meeting on the state of the art, since it made it very clear that a paradigm shift is urgently needed in order to fight variety piracy. He explained that ‘to be specific, we need to adopt a new approach; instead of imposing sanctions and repressive measures, we should start focusing more on the moral suasion of producers. He then added: ‘Paying royalties should not be seen as a tax or a restraint, but as a service that is offered to producers so that they can grow varieties that are more productive, resistant and of better quality. ‘It will take a while,’ he concluded, ‘but this is the right way to go if we are to achieve shared, long-term results.’
On the first day of Macfrut, Wednesday 3rd, another successful event took place.
New technologies for genetic innovation and for the plant nursery industry
The first ‘Hot topic table’ on ‘New Technologies for Genetic Innovation and for the Plant Nursery Industry’ was held as part of the Plant Nursery Exhibition.
As revealed on this occasion, the European Commission’s proposal for the regulation of AETs (Assisted Evolution Techniques) is soon to be submitted to the European Council and Parliament. Once the legislative process is complete, Europe will lay the groundwork for the genetic improvement of plants through non-GMO biotechnology, which is now essential to fight climate change and limit the use of chemicals.
MEP Paolo De Castro, who spoke at the meeting, said: ‘At present, this scenario is approved for GMOs by current European legislation, i.e. Directive 2001/18/EC, which will make it possible to improve the quality and increase the quantity of agricultural products, resulting in higher income and, above all, allowing less chemicals to be used. Hopefully, this process will be completed fairly soon so as to offer support to producers and increase sustainability in line with the goals of the F2F (Farm to Fork) strategy.’
Italy, and the CREA (Council for Agricultural Research and Economics) in particular, has applied some AETs for the genetic improvement of plants based on cutting-edge techniques such as cisgenesis and genome editing. Such techniques cannot yet be applied to field trials as they are not yet authorised by law. Three bills are currently being discussed in Italy.
Riccardo Velasco, director of the CREA centre of Conegliano Veneto, explained: ‘These three techniques can be used to inactivate the genes that make plants vulnerable to diseases and abiotic stress. We conducted in vitro tests on several plant species and achieved great results for certain tree species (vines, apple trees and citrus trees). We also developed table grape varieties such as Italia or Vittoria, which could potentially be seedless. It is now necessary to start field tests in order to verify these results by putting them into practice.’