Agrifood Brief: A little less conversation, a little more action please

Subscribe to the Agrifood Brief to receive the latest roundup of news covering agriculture & food from across Europe.

What do Elvis and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have in common? Besides their debonair good looks and suave style, more importantly, both want us to know: It’s now or never.

With the war in Ukraine raising concerns over global food shortages, there has been much talk about emergency measures in Europe’s agricultural policy.

“We must act with these measures, in the short term, to address food security and affordability concerns now,” EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said in a recent address to lawmakers.

Measures proposed by the EU executive in its recently published communication on food security include relaxing some environmental requirements, such as permitting farmers to plant crops on land that was previously set aside for biodiversity.

The underlying argument seems to be that to deal with short-term, urgent problems, it makes sense to temporarily suspend or weaken environmental efforts, which serve long-term goals like climate and biodiversity protection.

But from the perspective of the IPCC, an international panel of climate scientists that issued its latest assessment report on how to mitigate climate change on Monday (4 April), this logic has it all upside down.

Or, in the iconic words of the king of Rock and Roll: Tomorrow will be too late.

The scientists found that to limit global warming, the next few years are critical, so, rather than being a long-term project, steps to fight climate change need to be taken immediately, the report concludes – climate measures are emergency measures.

“It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 °C,” Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC working group responsible for the report, told journalists. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible,” he added.

According to the scenarios that the report assessed, if we want to stop global warming from going beyond 1.5 °C, greenhouse gas emissions will have to peak before 2025 at the latest and be reduced by 43% by 2030.

And the stakes for the agriculture and food sector are high. According to a previously published chapter of the IPCC report, global warming could majorly strain food systems and make millions worldwide subject to food insecurity.

The researchers found that even a small increase in global temperatures will mean farmers have to grapple with more frequent and more severe weather events.

While, according to the IPCC, climate change is already affecting food security in vulnerable regions like Africa and Asia, a new study by the think tank Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) projects that global warming by 2 °C would reduce wheat yields by 12% even in the southern regions of Europe.

But while global warming could leave agriculture, all shook up, the hopeful message of the most recent report is that the sector could make significant contributions towards limiting climate change – if we act fast.

Agriculture and forestry can “provide large-scale emissions reductions and also remove and store carbon dioxide at scale” the report states. However, it cautions that the land-use sector alone cannot compensate for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors.

Moreover, the researchers found that improving the climate footprint of agricultural products could help reduce emissions along the value chain. This will happen if downstream sectors use agricultural products that are sustainably sourced. They note that climate measures in farming can often bring “co-benefits” such as biodiversity conservation or ecosystem services.

Despite all this, the report also finds that up to now, policies specifically targeting emissions from agriculture and the production of feed and other inputs are rare.

This is an area where the EU could step up – after all, it has plenty of regulations, directives, frameworks and revamps in the works set to make farming and food more sustainable, all (or most) under the overarching framework of the flagship Farm to Fork strategy.

The question is now: When will we see these proposals implemented, and how ambitious will the final product be?

The recipe for success might just lie in the wisdom of the king of rock and roll again: a little less conversation – a little more action.

By Julia Dahm

Podcast

Agrifood Podcast: Janusz from the bloc, French elections, Groundhog Day

Feeling lost about everything that has happened this week in the agrifood world? No need to worry, EURACTIV’s agrifood team has your back. In this week’s podcast, we cover all the major events this week, from food security to the …

Feeling lost about everything that has happened this week in the agrifood world? No need to worry, EURACTIV’s agrifood team has your back. In this week’s podcast, we cover all the major events this week, from food security to the Commission’s emissions proposal, and we are joined by EURACTIV France’s Hugo Struna to discuss the French elections and how this may impact the direction of the food sector.

Agrifood stories of the week

Agriculture Commissioner: It is ‘prudent’ to prioritise upping EU food production
Increasing food production in Europe is a priority in light of the Ukraine war, according to the EU’s agri-boss, who detailed how the European Commission encourages member states to do this through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Natasha Foote has the story.

EU foresees rise in grain exports to plug Ukrainian wheat global gap
In the next two years, the European Commission estimates a 30% increase in exports of cereals to mitigate the impact on global markets of the reduced Ukrainian yield due to the war. Gerardo Fortuna has the details.

Industrial emissions proposal criticised by farming sector
Lawmakers and stakeholders close to the agriculture community accused the EU executive of being disconnected from reality and creating additional bureaucracy after presenting new rules to curb pollution in the industrial sector. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

EU-wide protein strategy on the cards as Commission changes its tune
The European Commission has now backed the creation of an EU-wide protein strategy, U-turning on a previous position after persistent lobbying from MEPs and member states. Learn more.

EU lawmakers call on Commission to end meat promotion amid Ukraine crisis
EU lawmakers across party groups have called on the European Commission to stop promoting meat consumption as the war in Ukraine impacts the global food supply and leads to feed shortages in the EU. Read more.

Cultivated meat companies gear up for first EU approval applications
Amid growing interest in plant-based diets, European cultivated meat companies are preparing to take their first steps towards EU approval, but some warn the technology could do more harm than good. Natasha Foote explores more in this deep dive.

EU health authorities probe multi-country Salmonella outbreak linked to chocolate eggs
Two top EU health bodies announced on Wednesday (6 April) that an outbreak caused by Salmonella is rapidly evolving in six European Union countries, Norway, and the United Kingdom (UK), with Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs identified as the likely route of infection. Giedre Peseckyte has the details.

Germany split over ramping up food production
The debate over scrapping environmental measures to produce more food and mitigate problems caused by the Ukraine war has split German policymakers and so far, federal and regional governments have not been able to find a middle ground. Julia Dahm has more.

Germany fears seasonal labour shortages as Ukraine war rages on
This year, labour supply bottlenecks could become a problem due to the Ukraine war and the ongoing pandemic, and while the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) calls for the rules to be relaxed, critics argue deeper issues remain. EURACTIV Germany reports.

France’s CAP plan ‘only partially’ supports green transition, Commission says
The European Commission expressed reservations about France’s national strategic plan, saying it did not meet the environmental commitments of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), according to an observation letter. EURACTIV France reports.

CAP corner

Commission considers call for exceptional flexibility under CAP second pillar: The EU executive is open to looking in detail into member states’ call for more flexibility in the rural development spending to help European farmers hit by the Ukraine war, which has put further pressure on the agriculture sector. Gerardo Fortuna has the whole story.

Special report: To cope with the fallout of the Ukraine war, the European Commission has asked member states to adapt their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plans in consideration of the new geopolitical context and adopted a number of derogations. Throughout the month of April, EURACTIV’s network will look at how 10 different member states plan to use these new flexibilities and how this could change the course of the CAP reform in this Special Report.

Go your own way: The European Commission sent observation letters to the 19 member states who submitted their CAP national strategic plans by the deadline. Despite the fact that the Commission tried to postpone their publication, a number of countries have chosen to go ahead and publish their plans anyway. You can find the links to the published plans in our CAP plan tracker.

News from the bubble

Food diplomacy: In a blog post, Josep Borrell, Vice-President of the European Commission, called for a renewed focus on food security given that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked “massive hikes in food prices and created the risk of food shortages”. “After the “mask diplomacy” and the “vaccine diplomacy”, we are probably entering now a period of “food diplomacy”, and we have to fight an additional “battle of narratives” with the Russian disinformation machinery,” he wrote.

Pesticide ban: The European Commission confirmed on Friday (8 April) that sulfoxaflor insecticide will soon be banned in the EU only seven years after its first approval due to concerns about its toxicity to bees. When banning a pesticide for environmental reasons, the European Commission restricts them to greenhouse use as, in theory, no leaks can take place.

Italians take it all: Italian centre-right wing Salvatore De Meo announced on Twitter he has been appointed as rapporteur on the revision of the EU’s promotion policy, with which the EU supports certain European foodstuffs to boost their competitiveness and consumption domestically and internationally. De Meo’s appointment follows in the footsteps of another Italian MEP, the socialist Paolo De Castro, who will oversee the other delicate file of the geographical indications (GIs) revision.

Carbon farming: Farming ministers adopted conclusions on carbon farming based on the parts of the Commission’s ‘sustainable carbon cycles’ communication this week. See here for more information.

Long-term impact: The Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) published a new brief this week on the impact that climate change, biodiversity loss and soil erosion can have on food availability in Europe in the long run.

EU resilience: The World Economic Forum published a new report, ‘Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU’, this week which found that if one farmer in five transitions to more climate-smart practices, it will increase the EU’s resiliency to food supply shocks and address the worst effects of climate change.

Consumer (dis)trust: EIT Food published a new food trust report this week, surveying over 20,000 consumers to determine how much trust European consumers have in the food system. It concluded that less than half of European consumers have confidence in the food sector. Learn more.

A wider view

New platform: The world farmers’ organisation (WFO) has launched a centralised platform providing accurate, updated information on the issues affecting agriculture amid the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Check it out here.

Price hikes: World food commodity prices made a significant leap in March to reach their highest levels ever, as the war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reported this week.

High-risk of zoonotic diseases: Meanwhile, a separate FAO report warned that disruption of supply chains, animal health services, and surveillance would impact early detection, prevention and control of high impact animal and zoonotic diseases. The risks of disease spread in Ukraine and neighbouring countries is high and need to be re-evaluated to apply coordinated and targeted, risk-based control measures,” the report reads. Learn more.

Rapid response plan: In order to address the rapidly deteriorating food security situation, the FAO has updated its Rapid Response Plan (RRP) for Ukraine, calling for a revised funding requirement of $115.4 million to support the 327,209 vulnerable smallholder and medium-sized farming households through December 2022.

Support for sub-Saharan Africa: The FAO also launched a new phase of its key agricultural policy monitoring and analysis initiative, focused on supporting reforms in eight Sub-Saharan African countries as they face an array of global challenges with an $11 million grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Learn more.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

SLOVAKIA

V4 farmers demand postponement of new CAP for a year due to the war. Representatives of the largest agricultural organisations of the four Visegrad Group states and five other countries have jointly called for a temporary postponement of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, as well as of other environmental measures. Learn more.

AUSTRIA

Commission bemoans lack of clear targets in Austrian CAP plan. Following the example of a number of other member states, the Austrian agriculture ministry has published the European Commission’s first assessment of the country’s strategic plan for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform. While the EU executive positively notes Austria’s efforts to support small farmers as well as the increased budget earmarked for environment and climate measures and community-led local development, the letter “requests Austria to revise the proposed target values.” Specifically, result indicators should be made more accurate and benchmarks set at an adequate level to achieve key goals of the new CAP, the Commission writes.

FRANCE

French farmers plagued by late frost. In recent weeks, nightly frosts have been wreaking havoc on French crops. The problem is not new: Last year, the country’s agriculture had already struggled with frost in spring. But while, in 2021, it was vineyards that were especially affected, the biggest damage this year is taken by fruit trees. Get the full story here.

GERMANY

Farmers call on EU Commission to be strict with German CAP plan. In a letter to the European Commission, the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) has called on the EU executive to demand adjustments to Germany’s strategic plan for the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Among other things, the farmers would like the Commission to demand more attractive offers for dairy farms when it comes to the so-called eco-schemes, as well as a reduction of red tape. “We need more practicability and better financial support for farmers,” the association’s president, Joachim Rukwied, said. While the Commission has already sent feedback letters to all countries that submitted their strategic plans on time, Germany is still awaiting a reply as its plan had been late.

SPAIN

Spain starts work on adapting CAP plan. The Spanish agriculture ministry and the autonomous regions have launched talks on adapting the country’s strategic plan for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform to the European Commission’s proposals on safeguarding food security in the face of the war in Ukraine. Find the full story here.

ITALY

Ministry gives the green light to the online register for grains. Italy’s agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli has signed a new decree establishing the online register for cereals, called Granaio Italia (“Italian barn”). The loading and unloading of cereals will be registered in order to facilitate more accurate monitoring of cereal production on the national territory. An experimental phase during which penalties will not apply will last until 31 December 2023 to verify the effective operation of the instrument, as well as to need to make any changes. The recipients are agricultural businesses and cooperatives, as well as traders and first processors. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

UK

UK farming could take “permanent” hit from post-Brexit labour shortages. Britains food and farming sector have could see “permanent” damage from the labour shortages caused by Brexit and accentuated by the COVID pandemic, UK lawmakers find in a report published on Wednesday (6 April). Read the full story.

GREECE

Greece aims to increase cereal crop production. The intention of the Greek government is to enable an increase in cereal crops, the country’s minister of food and rural development, Georgios Georgantas, stressed during a conference on Monday (4 April). Georgantas pointed to measures amounting to € 200 million for the support of farmers that the Greek government has taken, as well as to the decision of the European Commission to activate the Crisis Fund, from which Greece still has 26 million euros. The minister added that a plan for further support for farmers and the purchase of fertilisers is under consideration. He also confirmed that farmers are exempt from the business tax for this year. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

CROATIA

Tilled area for sowing similar to last spring. Agriculture Ministry State Secretary Tugomir Majdak said on Wednesday that the size of the area tilled this spring for the sowing season was similar to the area covered by last year’s spring sowing. Answering questions from some Opposition parliamentary deputies about a fall in the production of fruit and vegetables last year, Majdak said that the decline was to a large extent due to natural disasters to which orchards and vegetable gardens were exposed. He also informed the parliament that in the next four years, 313 million kuna (€42 million) would be disbursed for the consolidation of 18,000 hectares of arable land. Improving the system for the restructuring of farmland and its consolidation is a reform measure under the 2021-2026 National Recovery and Resilience Plan, and its implementation requires 313 million kuna (€41,73), of which 80% is expected to come from EU funds and 20% from the state budget. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr)

ALBANIA

Medical cannabis to be grown in Albania. The Albanian government will immediately start work to legalise the cultivation of medical cannabis after a national consultation showed 61% thought the government should allow its cultivation, processing and exportation according to Exit.al

Events

10 – 14 April | European farming systems conference – Evora (PT)

12 April | Facing water and nutrient scarcity in European agriculture: Lessons from the Horizon 2020 SolACE Project

13 April | Copa-Cogeca H2020 Workshop on R&I projects

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe