This week, everyone has been talking about black gold.
And no, I’m not talking about oil. I’m talking about the real black gold, the kind that sustains life on our planet and underpins our entire agricultural system.
That’s right – I’m talking about soil.
Between members of the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee calling for the creation of an EU-wide common legal framework for the protection of soil, and the FAO’s four-day global symposium on soil biodiversity, this natural resource has been a hot topic this week.
And quite rightly so.
Because, contrary to water and air, there is currently no coherent and integrated EU legal framework for protecting Europe’s soil, as MEPs pointed out.
This means that measures on soil protection are fragmented among many policy instruments that lack coordination and are often non-binding, they said.
This is despite the fact that soil underpins life on our planet, as environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius reminded everyone in his address at the symposium earlier this week.
“The biodiversity in our soil is a vast biological engine driving the processes that underpin our survival that engine needs,” he said, pointing out that it is home to one-quarter of the planet’s biodiversity.
And it’s true – soils are of vital importance for biodiversity, so it seems only fitting that the environment Commissioner highlights this.
But it goes without saying that by providing a source of the essential nutrients and water we need to grow our food, soils are also the backbone of a secure and sustainable agricultural system.
Agriculture, as both a product of and producer of soil, has a lot at stake in the discussion on soil, but also a lot to offer – life makes soil and soil makes more life.
Nutrition also has its roots in the soil; healthy soil grows healthy food, which then sustains healthy people.
So, with that in mind, the question is – why is it DG ENVI leading the charge on soil, rather than AGRI?
Contacted by EURACTIV, an EU official pointed out that DG ENVI is in the lead in terms of legislation for soil health, as soil is a natural resource.
However, they added, this doesn’t mean that the importance of soil is not recognised in agri-circles, pointing out that this is reflected in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
This is both because fostering the ‘sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air’ is a key aim, but also because “targeted improvements in soil management help improve farm sustainability, from income to air, water and biodiversity”, the official said.
“Healthy soils are indeed fundamental for agriculture and the Green Deal objectives. None of the targets on pesticides and nutrients, the conversion to organic farming or climate can be achieved without acting urgently and comprehensively on soils,” the official explained, adding that the Commission is preparing a mission in the area of soil health and food.
The mission will be managed by DG AGRI and aims at creating synergies with major initiatives, policies and funding instruments, notably the future CAP and the European Innovation Partnership, EIP AGRI.
“Together, the CAP, the soil mission and the upcoming soil strategy will provide a solid framework for knowledge, innovation, testing and upscaling of solutions to move towards healthy soils in agriculture, forestry and beyond,” the official said.
For the sake of the treasure trove beneath our feet, let’s hope so.
Stories of the week
EU farmers organisation has been left feeling unrepresented by the EU Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski after he posted a series of tweets criticising industrial farming and they are set to hash out their differences in a meeting later this week. Natasha Foote has the story.
The Portuguese presidency of the EU Council aims to meet the European Parliament halfway by increasing up to 25% the eco-scheme ring-fencing, in a bid to break the deadlock on the green architecture of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform. Gerardo Fortuna has the details.
The rapid EU-wide loss of family and small-scale farms is in part due to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has said, pointing to the policy’s “errors and mistakes”. Natasha Foote has more.
The European Commission has urged caution about the expiry date marking of highly perishable food after multinational food concern Danone announced plans to get rid of the ‘use by’ reference for its dairy products. Gerardo Fortuna has more.
News from the bubble
CAP corner: The Commission adopted new rules to simplify the common agricultural policy (CAP)’s fruit and vegetable support scheme, and in particular, rules related to activities and programmes of producer organisations in the fruit and vegetable sector. This simplification paves the way to the new CAP, which will apply from 2023. Member states will now be able to extend their national strategies for the fruit and vegetable sector to ensure a smooth transition between the current and new rules once the new CAP enters into force.
Balance, not ban: The EU should not ban the trade of live animals, but instead find tools that would improve the well-being of animals during transport and be acceptable to all parties involved, the Commission told members of the Animal Transport Inquiry Committee this week. The Commission representatives acknowledged the lack of consistent implementation of the animal transportation rules, but gave its assurances that they seek to improve the situation, including more training for member states officials and businesses, more audits, and is currently looking at a revision of current rules.
Fisheries support measures: The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, three French schemes worth €100 million in total, to support the fisheries sector affected by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU and the consequent quota share reductions foreseen in the provisions of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). These are the first support measures approved by the Commission in the context of inter-institutional discussions on the proposed Brexit Adjustment Reserve (‘BAR’).
Food waste: New guidance is available to help food suppliers decide what information to give consumers about storing food and time limits for consumption. The tool developed by EFSA’s experts assists food suppliers in deciding whether it is appropriate to give consumers other instructions in addition to the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates.
Wheat innovation: Agricultural companies RAGT and Bayer have announced an exclusive collaboration to develops state-of-the-art hybrid wheat varieties for European markets, according to Farming UK. The two firms will pool their strengths by combining Europe’s leading soft wheat genetics with access to the latest breeding methodologies.
Geographical indications: The European Commission has approved the request for registration of “Cașcaval de Săveni” from Romania and of “Budaorsi Oszibarack” from Hungary in the register of protected geographical indications (PGI) and of “Slovenska potica” in the register of traditional specialities guaranteed (TSG).
Agrifood news from the Capitals
Prime minister Jean Castex has promised €1 billion to farmers hit by the frost wave earlier this month. Those concerned will be exempted from social security charges this year and receive exceptional funding. These aids were a “matter of survival for many farmers” after being struck by what Jean Castex calls a “climate catastrophe”. In the long-term, a reform of the French assurance system for the agricultural sector is “essential”, according to the Prime minister. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)
On Tuesday, the marijuana legalisation team submitted a package of bills to the Sejm. The bills deal with fibre cannabis, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. The draft proposes that possession of up to five grams of marijuana and hashish for personal use should not be punished, while possession of five to 10 grams should be punished by a fine. The proposal is also to allow the cultivation of cannabis for medical use. Currently, medical marijuana is imported into Poland from other countries. The proposal also assumes refunding the purchase of medical marihuana. The team’s drafts are signed by opposition MPs: Left, Civic Coalition and Confederation. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)
According to the national statistic bureau (ISTAT), exports of Italian cheese fell by 15% in volume and 18% in value in January. The drop is partly due to the fall in non-EU exports to the United States and the UK, respectively by 56% and 26%. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
The UK’s ‘Pick for Britain’ scheme has failed to bear fruit, leading to a decision this week by the UK government to scrap the scheme entirely. The campaign was intended to fill crop picking roles left vacant by foreign workers’ transportation difficulties as the Covid pandemic struck Europe. Jack Ward, CEO of the British Grower’s Association, told EURACTIV that the scheme was instead being streamlined and targeted, welcoming government plans to allow for 30,000 visas for pickers from outside the UK for this summer. (Natasha Foote| EURACTIV.com)
The Spanish agricultural minister, Luis Planas, has said that he is “satisfied” with how the meetings he is holding with the autonomous communities are going on the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Spain and sees a “constructive and positive spirit”. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro reports.
On Thursday evening (22 April), the Bundestag passed a plan to compensate the owners of Germany’s forests to create “a climate-stable forest ecosystem.” The original motion was submitted on Monday by members of the country’s governing coalition, the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD). The proposal passed solely with support from these parties, as the four opposition parties (the liberal FDP, Greens, Die Linke, and the AfD) voted against it. The motion cites the previous three years of damage from droughts and storms, which have left 277,000 hectares that need to be reforested according to data from the end of 2020. “Forest restoration requires high investments, which essentially have to be borne by the forest owners,” CDU/CSU parliamentary group explained on their website. The proposal will help “create a long-term perspective for sustainable forest management,” SPD rapporteur Isabel Mackensen said. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
26 April – EU agriculture ministers will hold an informal video conference to discuss the current situation on agricultural markets and trade-related issues. They will also exchange views on the state of play of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.
27 April – There is an event on the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and its implications for US agriculture.