Agrifood Brief: Beef game

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The worldwide success of the newest Netflix series, ‘Squid Game’, showed how Korean culture can be easily exported across Europe. But when it comes to food, South Korea is also getting ready to import European beef (again).

I don’t expect everyone to have watched the South Korean survival TV series but I’d wager you all have at least heard about it or have stumbled onto a meme inspired by it on social media.

*Please note: this Brief is completely spoiler-free so you can continue reading without running the risk of a ruined season-finale.

Just a couple of months ago, the idea of producing a South Korean TV show for a global audience might have seemed unimaginable. But now, not only is ‘Squid Game’ Netflix’s most-watched show debut, but it’s on track to become the most popular original series ever.

And this is not the first exploit of Korean culture outside the national borders, as the Asian country has also become a music superpower in recent years – even the author of this brief, who mostly listens to jazz and rock music, has been recently bewitched by K-pop, without understanding a word of what they are singing.

When it comes to food, Korean cuisine is winning the hearts (and the stomachs) of many people here in Europe, particularly the fans of fermented food and drinks – including a member of EURACTIV’s Agrifood team who recently wrote an article on the idea of serving kimchi, the Korean fermented vegetable side dish, to chickens (kind of).

This cultural success was among the topics raised during an interview with South Korean Trade Minister Yeo Han-Koo by EURACTIV’s new Economy Editor Janos Ammann.

Prompted by EURACTIV’s agrifood team, he asked the minister about the last developments of an incredibly forgotten agrifood story.

Perhaps not many people know that an import ban on European beef has been in place in South Korea since 2001 after an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the so-called ‘mad cow’ disease.

The restrictions concerning market access for European beef have undermined its free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU, which was provisionally applied since July 2011 and formally ratified in December 2015.

In September 2019, South Korea lifted the restrictions for beef producers from the Netherlands and Denmark, but the import ban is still in force for other member states, although the government of Seul have promised many times to sort this anomaly out.

“We take it seriously and we understand this is a serious interest from the European Union’s side,” the minister told EURACTIV.

He added that the topic is very sensitive to Koreans and, even when 10 years ago there was another mad cow outbreak in the US, the possibility of importing American beef caused political turmoil in the country.

“We have that painful experience. So we have to be very cautious as it is not just a trade matter but it’s about national health and the hygiene of Koreans,” he said.

However, the minister confirmed that the file for lifting restrictions for good is running the last few meters at the South Korean Parliament.

“Our national assembly is mulling over this issue. So I cannot control their timeline but [the file] is at the final stage, I can say,” he said, adding that the government will closely coordinate with the European partner during the process.

The beef game is about to conclude but like every game, it takes (at least) two.

South Korea has asked the EU to allow imports of samgyetang, the traditional ginseng chicken soup, currently prohibited in Europe due to concerns over hygiene standards.

Progress on both chicken soup and beef could probably sort the issue out, also considering that so far, the discussions on foodstuff was very profitable for both the EU and South Korea.

The FTA already protects 226 geographical indications (GIs), while at the last ministerial talks the two partners agreed on further including an additional 84 EU and Korean names to the protected list.

Before leaving the interview, EURACTIV’s Janos Ammann asked what Korean foodstuff Europeans should try and the minister suggested a fermented pear wine – unfortunately, we did not catch the name of this drink.

Now, the last time we mentioned an exotic foodstuff from the other side of the Earth, we received some at the newsroom.

We’re not saying that we expect to receive a bottle of this fermented pear wine, but I’m sure the team’s fermented foodstuff fan would appreciate the gesture.

(G.F.)

MEPs slam Commission for delaying release of Farm to Fork report

European lawmakers have criticised the European Commission’s decision to sit on the controversial study on the impacts of the Farm to Fork for half a year, calling it a “sneaky” move designed to conceal its contents. Natasha Foote has the story.

Member states back ban on unsafe food colourant linked with cancer risk

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1 million EU citizens ask Commission to ban wild animals in circuses

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Tight turn-around: A third of EU member states have expressed concerns over meeting an end-of-year deadline for submitting their national strategic plans under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the agriculture Commissioner’s home country Poland, according to sources. EURACTIV’s agrifood team has more.

FARM TO FORK

Labelling, food waste, pesticides: We heard from all of the major players in the agricultural world at the European Commission’s Farm to Fork conference this week, including Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who pointed to a number of initiatives being undertaken in the coming year to fulfil the aims of the strategy. This includes food labelling initiatives that will come at the end of next year, mandatory EU food waste reduction targets, the new EU animal welfare legislation for the end of 2023; and the revision of our rules on pesticides, due for adoption early next year.

Meanwhile, Vice-President Frans Timmermans highlighted the important role of consumers, including the need for transparent labelling to ensure consumers understand their choices and the need to integrate their demands into the food chain, while Agriculture Commissioner stressed the importance of international cooperation and of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans, saying that these must include a clear strategy for fairer systems of agriculture which opens more opportunities to small, family farmers, women, and young farmers.

Delayed study: The largest Parliamentary group, the EPP, called for an explanatory debate in plenary next week on the reasons why the Commission opted to delay the report on the impacts of the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, but French MEP Anne Sander claims this was blocked by other groups, including Renew Europe and the Greens. EURACTIV is following the story to bring you more information.

Impact assessment not up to the task: An analysis of the F2F by the thinktank IDDRI concluded this week that an ex-ante impact assessment of a strategy as systemic as the F2F poses “significant methodological challenges”. “Indeed, the usual tools of impact studies are designed to evaluate marginal changes in a system through a market equilibrium approach: a new regulation, an increase in input costs, a new customs duty, etc. However, with F2F the European Commission is proposing a structural change to the food system that makes traditional tools, although well suited to studying marginal changes, unsuitable for evaluating this systemic strategy,” it concluded. Read more. 

PESTICIDES

Glyphosate: In an open letter, 41 health and environment groups joined forces this week to urge the European Commission to put an end to use of “unreliable industry studies” and guarantee that the ongoing assessment of glyphosate is based on “updated independent scientific evidence that remains free from vested interests. Glyphosate is the most widely-used pesticide in the world. Ahead of the expiry of the current license (expected on 15th December 2022), the re-assessment of glyphosate is currently underway.

Pesticide renewal: In a recent letter, campaign group Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe have called on the the EU’s standing committee on pesticides (SCoPAFF) not to vote in favour of the European Commission proposal for a renewal of approval of the pesticide flumioxazin and cypermethrin for 15 years. Pointing to concerns over their endorine-disrupting propoerties, the group said that the proposal for renewal is “incomprehensible”.

SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS

Policy brief: The EU Food Policy Coalition launched a new policy brief presenting a common vision, endorsed by 23 CSOs, on the role of food environments in shaping food demand and their potential to leverage a sustainable food systems transition.

FOOD SAFETY

Salmonella: Five European countries have reported salmonellosis infections linked to the consumption of sesame-based products such as tahini and halva imported from Syria. Up to 121 people have been affected since January 2019 in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.

GREECE
Greece is set to subsidise the installation of solar panels in agriculture, with the Greek ministry of energy and environment saying this will be a positive way to protect the environment and save costs. “The promotion of the use of renewables and actions to improve energy efficiency in the agricultural sector will be part of the National Plan for Energy and Climate,” said deputy Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change Nikolaos Tagaras. With this measure, the government hopes to help farmers produce environmentally friendly energy for their own use while decreasing overhead costs.  Another goal is to provide Greek farmers with the opportunity to sell excess energy back to the electricity system and generate additional income. The new scheme is expected to be part of Greece’s national plan on agriculture in the rural development pillar. (Georgia Karagianni | EURACTIV.gr)

FRANCE
French Agrifood minister Julien Denormandie, the minister of the Ecological transition Barbara Pompili and the minister of Finance Bruno Le Maire have signed a decree this week which paves the way for banning plastic packaging on non-transformed fruit and vegetables by 2026. According to estimations, 37% of all fruit and vegetables are today sold wrapped in plastic. The new decree seeks to abolish a billion of plastic wrappings every year, starting with the packaging of thirty fruit and vegetable products on January 1st, 2022. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

GERMANY
German farmers and environmentalists have teamed up to demand change from a potential government coalition. In a joint statement on Tuesday (12 October), ten organisations, including Germany’s biggest farmers’ association DBV and several environment and animal protection NGOs, called on the parties currently holding exploratory talks to implement the measures proposed by the “Commission for the Future of Agriculture”. The stakeholder body had been instigated by the federal government to develop recommendations for the long-term development of German agriculture and presented its conclusions in July. A new government would have to “transpose the broad consensus of the commission into political action,” Christoph Heinrich from WWF said. Following September’s federal elections, the German Social Democrat, Greens, and Liberals launched exploratory coalition talks on Monday. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)

ITALY
The production of pears in Emilia Romagna, a region that accounts for 70% of national production, has reached a new low after two years of poor harvesting. The estimate was made by the inter-professional organisation Pera. “In addition to frost damage, this drop was also due to the loss of surface areas, particularly for some varieties such as Conference, Abate, Kaiser, and Decana, but also to the presence of the Asian bug and drought,” said Gianni Amidei, president of the interprofessional organisation. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

SLOVAKIA
The Hungarian government has halted plans to set up a fund that would have enabled Hungarian farmers to buy arable land in Central Europe with state money after several representatives of the Slovak executive criticised this move.  Welcoming the decision, Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok wrote on Facebook that it “confirms the need for consultation and intensive dialogue on everything we do in our relations,” adding it would improve Slovak-Hungarian relations. “However, I also believe that in the foreseeable future, we will receive answers from the Hungarian Foreign Minister to other questions concerning the purchase of real estate or the Hungarian government’s programs in Slovakia in the field of education and business support,” he added. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)

POLAND
On 11th of October, Secretary of State Szymon Giżyński met with the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry of Mongolia Tumur-Uya Jambaltseren. During the talks, Giżyński mentioned good relationships with Mongolia and paid attention to the importance of the agricultural sector. Jambaltseren expressed his hope for the possibility of implementing new projects in the field of agriculture. Szymon Giżyński agreed that achieving conclusion of bilateral contracts would be a good step to build even better two-way communication. Moreover, Poland is progressing in the trade of agricultural food products. Export of Polish agri-food products to Mongolia in 2020 was worth around 20 mln EUR. Mainly vegetables, preserved fruits and pork were exported.

SWITZERLAND
The Swiss National Council extended the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified plants in agriculture by another four years until the end of 2025 this week. The vote was carried by 144 votes to 27, with 19 abstentions.

SPAIN
Spains’ ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food (MAPA) is set to advance the payment of direct aids from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will benefit some 664,000 farmers and ranchers with up to €3,350 million. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

IRELAND
Ireland’s minister for agriculture, Charlie McConalogue TD, announced this week the details of his department’s 2022 Budget, which gives an earmarks an increase of funding to the department of €1.858 billion. This is in addition to almost €1.2 billion in EU funded direct payments received annually to support farm incomes and reward good agricultural and environmental practices. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

UK
The EU has offered to drastically reduce checks on imports of agri-food products in a move which would see physical checks almost entirely eliminated, while customs paperwork would be halved on goods imported into Northern Ireland. Negotiations will now take place over the next few months, with farmers and exporters waiting with baited breath to see if the proposal will sufficiently placate both sides. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

16 October | Good Fish – Good Food: Drive the transformation towards sustainable food for all 

18-19 October | The European Parliament will debate and vote on the Farm to Fork strategy

20 October | CAP reform – How will EU Member States deliver on their CAP Strategic Plans?

20 October | Climate finance opportunities to foster forest-positive agriculture

24-26 October | International trade show for organic products – Paris 

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