Agrifood Brief: A COP out?

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“Plant-forward”, seasonal and locally sourced, with a focus on ingredients produced using environmentally friendly practices. That’s what was on the menu for world leaders this week at the COP26, according to a statement from the UK COP26 Presidency.

On the off chance that you don’t know what I’m talking about, this week saw the 26th edition of the COP summit, where world leaders, alongside tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens, gather to discuss how the world can reduce its carbon emissions to tackle climate change.

With time running out for action on climate change, its organisers have called this meeting the “world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”.

Given that this year’s COP was hosted in sunny Glasgow, world leaders were chowing down on things like potato, leek, and rosemary chowder and organic spelt whole-grain penne with an oatmeal crumble.

Underlining the strong connection between the food we eat and its impact on the environment, menu items were also listed alongside their carbon footprint, as one attendee tweeted, pointing out that a locally sourced bacon sarnie (a staple of British cuisine) was actually responsible for fewer carbon emissions than a plant-based croissant.

The problem is, this strong focus on food doesn’t seem to have made it much further than the COP26 plates.

Because even though sustainable food was physically on the table, it wasn’t tabled for a dedicated discussion.

What hasn’t gone amiss among agri stakeholders is that not a single day of the 10-day schedule was dedicated to food and agriculture.

That, however, is not to say that the topic didn’t come up at all. In fact, US President Joe Biden made the role of the agrifood sector in tackling climate change quite clear:

“As stewards of the land, our farmers belong on the front line of the climate fight,” he stated during a session on accelerating clean technology innovation this week, announcing a new $4 billion dollar agri innovation mission designed to catalyse food system innovation.

Meanwhile, there was the methane pledge which, given that it is the largest source of anthropogenic methane, heavily involves the agriculture sector, alongside a smattering of other breakout side events.

But it’s true that for a sector responsible for up to 30% of global emissions, but also one which holds huge potential as part of the solution to climate change, its absence was quite stark.

Not to mention that it’s one of the sectors that stands most in the firing line of climate change.

Campaigners did their best to draw the attention back to agriculture, with thousands taking to the street this Friday (5 November) to call on MEPs to vote down the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“This is the last chance to make clear that you care about biodiversity, nature, farmers and people,” campaign group Withdraw the CAP wrote on Twitter.

Meanwhile, EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA also stressed the need to “enhance further discussions on how to best tap into the potential” of the agriculture and forestry sector.

Christiane Lambert, Copa president, pointed out that the Paris Agreement and its climate goals are “otherwise unachievable without the full involvement of agriculture and forestry sectors”.

“No other sectors in Europe will be able to remove emissions from the atmosphere naturally. To deliver our full potential we need both consistent policies and general public support,” she said.

Harriet Bradley of IEEP, an institute for European environmental policy, who attended the COP summit in person, said she found agriculture’s absence from the talks “very surprising given the massive impact [of the sector] and the need to transform food systems in order to keep within 1.5 degrees”.

In other words, if the world can’t handle the heat, it’s time to get in the kitchen – to take a hard look at where our food comes from and how it is produced.

Agrifood Podcast

This week, EURACTIV looks at whether the COP26 summit was a ‘cop’ out on agriculture, we bring you the latest on the transposition of the unfair trade practices (UTPs) directive int he EU and hear from the rapporteur on the UTP file, Paolo de Castro, and we explore the new chapter that was opened this week in EU-US agri relations with the creation of a new knowledge exchange platform.

Agrifood news this week

EU-US announce new agri platform in bid to smooth over deepening cracks
The European Commission and the US administration have announced the creation of a new transatlantic collaboration platform on agriculture in a bid to boost knowledge exchange and cooperation, but tensions remain over the wider implications of the EU’s push on sustainability. Natasha Foote has more.

Commission report: EU countries have exceeded expectations on unfair trade practices
Most EU countries have chosen to go beyond the minimum protections set out in the EU rules banning unfair trading practices in the agri sector, a new report has found, but stakeholders warn much work remains to ensure the bloc is on common footing. Learn more.

Commission stands by €2 million EU grant for synthetic meat
The European Commission, challenged by Italian EU lawmakers, has defended the move to grant €2 million from the EU’s Recovery Fund to a research and development project designed to move forward in cellular agriculture and curb costs of lab-grown meat. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

Textile transparency issues will not vanish with upcoming EU’s strategy
The European Commission’s plan to guide and support the EU textile industry in emerging from the COVID-19 crisis might fall short when it comes to the traceability of textile raw materials. Learn more.

Germany’s rural residents happy with quality of life, bemoan job diversity
A majority of residents in rural regions in Germany are satisfied with their quality of life. The situation is less positive when it comes to jobs, digitalisation and public transport links, a study commissioned by the agriculture ministry published on Monday (1 November) found. EURACTIV Germany reports.

News from the bubble

Dramatic reduction in meat consumption: On the back of the COP26, campaign group Compassion in World Farming released a new report exploring the need for a “dramatic global reduction in meat consumption”, which the report concludes will be needed to avert a “climate catastrophe”.

Animal welfare: Green MEPs and members of the special Committee for the transport of live animals in the EU Parliament Francisco Guerreiro and Tilly Metz were in Denmark this week campaigning for improvements in animal welfare. “It’s fundamental to improve EU legislation so [as] to guarantee that the protection of animals is a priority,” Guerreiro tweeted.

On the theme of animal welfare, the European Commission opened its public consultation on animal welfare in the EU, the responses to which will feed into the revision of EU animal welfare legislation that is being conducted in the framework of the EU’s flagship food and farming policy, the Farm to Fork strategy. The consultation closes 21 January 2022. 

More MEPs on the move: A delegation from the European Parliament’s AGRI Committee, led by its chair Norbert Lins, visited South Tyrol in Italy this week to visit apple production companies, forestry management institutions, a research centre and farms to discuss with local producers and researchers how rural development programmes and policy changes work in practice in the region.

Forest fires: The Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the Commission presented the 21st edition of its annual report on forest fires in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, covering 2020. After the worst-ever year in 2019, 2020 was another year in which fires burnt large areas of natural land in Europe. Despite the increased level of preparedness in EU countries, about 340 000 hectares (ha) burnt in the EU in 2020, which is an area 30% larger than Luxembourg, according to the report. 

Geographical indications: The European Commission has approved the application for inclusion of “Urueña” from Spain in the register of protected designations of origin (PDO) and “Fertőd videki sárgarépa” from Hungary in the register of protected geographical indications (PGI).

News from the Capitals

UK
UK turns to EU for helping hand after Brexit butchers meat sector. Because of labour shortages caused by Brexit, British meat producers have resorted to exporting animal carcasses to the EU for butchering before re-importing the meat, but the UK government has insisted this will be resolved via its domestic workforce. Natasha Foote has more. 

Germany
The German agricultural ministry has delayed the final decision on national CAP regulations. After the Bundestag adopted legislation on the national implementation of the CAP reform in June, executive regulations to clarify important details are still outstanding. While agri minister Julia Klöckner had previously announced that she would submit the regulations to the government cabinet on Wednesday (3 October), this has been delayed as several aspects are still being negotiated, according to a ministry spokesperson. Especially the design of the so-called eco-schemes, as well as the share of direct payments that the schemes will make up ,were still being debated, they told EURACTIV Germany. The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) denounced the delay, saying it put into question whether the new CAP could be implemented on time. The ministry spokesperson said, however, that negotiators were “conscious of the relatively tight schedule” and were acting accordingly. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)

France
“Third agricultural revolution”: the role of genetics continues to divide. In its yearly press conference held this Wednesday (3 November), the French seed association UFS called on public policies to support varietal innovation during the five years of the next presidency. But while the government stresses the importance of genetics – which agrifood minister Julien Denormandie sees as a major backbone of the “third agricultural revolution” – NGOs continue warning of the risks of deregulation of gene editing for consumer health and the environment. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.FR)

Ireland
Ireland focuses on female farmers. The Irish agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue, outlined a range of measures this week designed to support women’s participation in farming as part of the new CAP Strategic Plan. The package of measures includes: an increased rate of grant aid of 60% for women aged 41-55 years; women-only knowledge transfer groups; and a call under the European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) initiative for proposals to examine women’s participation in agriculture. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Italy
Unfair trade practices directive has the green light. On Friday (5 November), Italy’s government gave the final go ahead for transposing the EU directive on unfair trade practices (UTPs) into Italian law. In particular, the new legislative framework is expected to put a stop to the dreaded double-step bearish bid auctions. The system required an initial auction where large-scale retailers asked all their suppliers to propose a starting bid for the purchase of a certain stock of goods. The lowest bid received in this first preliminary stage becomes the starting price for the real auction. This mechanism has aggravated the already heavy imbalances in the Italian value distribution chain at the expense of farmers and small producers over the past few years. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

Greece
Tensions high after payments to farmers are slashed. Tensions erupted between the ministry of rural development and producers this week after the recent 70% advance payments of 2021 basic payment scheme to beneficiaries (both stock breeders and farmers) across the country. According to official data, this year’s payments show a decrease of €63 million compared to the previous year. Several farmers’ associations and organisations are now calling for the resignation of the minister of rural development, Spilios Livanos, while the opposition party has also sided with the farmers. Livanos responded that with the changes made to the OPEKEPE (Payment and Control Agency for Guidance and Guarantee Community Aid) payments, €67 million are guaranteed for real livestock farmers, while a cut of €30 million was prevented. At the same time, a nationwide demonstration of farmers affected by the recent natural disasters is expected to take place in Athens this Saturday (6 November), demanding compensation and support from the state. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

Poland
Study launched to understand rural perspectives. This year’s study of Polish countryside and agriculture has started, which aims to understand attitudes and opinions of rural and urban residents on the assessment of socio-economic changes taking place in rural areas. The study, which has run every year since 2011, will also measure actions of the states towards agriculture. In the period from October to November 2021, researchers will conduct anonymous surveys based on the questions contained in the previously prepared interview questionnaire. Last year, one of the conclusions was that the majority of farmers and residents of the cities participating in the study are not “eurosceptics”. In fact, nearly 80% of respondents said they would vote “for accession” to the EU once again, an increase of 8% compared to the previous year. (Kamila Wilczyńska | EURACTIV.pl)

Croatia
Downward trend in milk production continues. The Croatian agriculture minister, Marija Vučković, met with representatives of milk producers and purchasers to discuss the recovery of the sector after a dramatic downturn in the sector last year. The minister  stressed the need to strengthen awareness of citizens about domestic milk consumption, saying this is crucial for the recovery of the sector, along with strengthening through sectoral association and implementation of aid measures. “We recognise the intensive effort and work required in milk production and the burning problem of financial sustainability of operations in this sector, so we are implementing all available support mechanisms,” she said. This includes new grants and an increase in existing ones under the rural development programmes, an increase in the allocation for processing, as well as the latest financial assistance to the livestock sector, which now exceeds 200 million kuna (€26 million)”, Vučković said. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr) 

Events

8 November: Farm to Fork Strategy and Common Agricultural Policy in the next EU 2021-2027 programming, organised by  Representation of the European Commission in Italy

8-9 November: Ruralisation 2021 conference

9 November: AGRI Committee meeting, including a debate on the EU action plan on organic agriculture and a presentation on the directive on unfair trading practices in the food chain

15 November: AGRIFISH Council meeting where ministers will meet in Brussels to adopt conclusions on the new EU forest strategy for 2030

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