Agriculture alliance calls on the EU to boost innovation and jobs

European foods and produce. []

A coalition representing Europe’s agriculture and food industries has called on the EU to boost innovation and jobs within the sector, which has come under pressure following Russia’s ban on EU food imports.

The group of 11 EU-level associations presented their joint declaration at the European Parliament on Tuesday (23 September).

Entitled ‘Food for Thought: A Vision for unlocking the potential of agriculture and food industries in the EU‘, the document states that the EU must foster agricultural and food chain research in order to sustain innovation.

The EU also needs to promote, create and protect jobs and emphasize the social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability, as well as support the role of Chief Scientific Adviser both at EU and national level, the coalition said.

The new coalition includes representatives of agricultural input industries such as suppliers of machinery, fertilizers, seeds, animal health, the feed and biotechnology-based producers, the agricultural trade, EU farmers as well as the European food and drink manufacturing sector. Together, these industries account for about 30 million jobs and 3.5% of the EU’s gross value added.

They highlighted that with ambitious policies, Europe will unlock its great agricultural potential and “maintain its place as a world leader”.

On 7 August, Russia banned all meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetable imports from the EU, the US Norway, Canada, and Australia for one year, to retaliate against Western sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

Russia remains the EU’s second most important food export market after the US. In 2012, the value of food and drinks exported from the EU to Russia was close to €9 billion. For some member states, Russia is the number one export market.

Meanwhile, the structure of EU exports to Russia is quite diversified, according to the food industry association FoodDrinkEurope, with meat, dairy and beverages appearing as the most important categories. A large part of EU exports to Russia come from Germany, the Netherlands, France and Poland, which means these countries are likely to be more affected.

Mella Frewen, FoodDrinkEurope’s Director General, said that the coalition has identified the numerous challenges faced by the agri-food chain and devised a clear set of policy recommendations to meet them.

“We sincerely hope that policymakers at EU and national level will give serious consideration to these recommendations and thus help ensure that we can continue to meet the ever changing needs of consumers, grow sustainably, innovate and create jobs,” Frewen said.

Italian socialist MEP Paolo De Castro said innovation and agriculture have to go hand-in-hand if Europe wishes to accomplish sustainable growth. “Unlocking the potential of EU agriculture will give an opportunity to translate ambitious policy objectives into reality,” he stated.

The liberal Belgian MEP Philippe De Backer added that innovation is at the heart of EU agriculture, and European policymakers should create a science-based framework that allows the sector to bring these innovations into the single market.

“This will benefit research, our agriculture and economy, and consumers,” De Backer said.

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

The situation has worsened since then. In July, EU resolve to punish Russia strengthened after the downing in Ukraine earlier this month of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. 194 of the passengers were from the Netherlands.

Western leaders say pro-Russian rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Moscow has blamed Kyiv for the tragedy.

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