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PLEASE NOTE: We’ll be back next week with our EURACTIV agrifood podcast, so stay tuned!
If you feel a bit holiday-sick after the first real summer most of us have had after the COVID-crisis, don’t worry – we’re here to brighten up the return to school with our trademark agrifood musings.
September is so chock full of things to look forward to that it might be a bit of a shock to the system. On the bright side, at least it will quickly push the nostalgia for our holidays far away.
Only a few days into this new school year and we have already seen MEPs in action over the EU’s new Forest Strategy, calling it vague and superficial and complaining that the Commission has overstepped its mandate.
And the informal Agrifish Council hosted in Slovenia – the holder of the current EU Council rotating presidency – will start next week.
As always, it will include the usual trips to rural areas and farms, used by each and every six-month EU presidency to show off their country’s best agricultural practices.
And, inevitably, it will involve key players in European farming policy in a host of weird and wonderful photo opportunities – like the one with fancy hats in Portugal.
The talks among EU farming ministers will be on strengthening rural-urban dialogue, in line with the recently presented rural area strategy.
But September is also a month of two big world congresses, one on organic agriculture and one on world conservation.
This year will be a big one for organic, between the implementation of the organic strategy and of the new organic directive, from January next year.
The UN Food systems summit is already causing a stir, sparking counter-protests among small farmers, who accuse it of being designed to serve a corporate agenda.
Along with the arrival of Autumn, October will bring the first Euroseeds congress after the presentation of the long-awaited Commission study on new genomic techniques, providing an opportunity to gauge the reaction from the big agritech company.
There will also be a lot of discussion around pesticides – most notably, the authorisation for the bloc’s most widely used herbicide, glyphosate, is up for renewal, and EU countries will have to decide its fate by the end of the year when its licence expires.
Not to mention, it seems that it’s all systems go for the final, final CAP down, with the ultimate green light from the European Parliament expected either in the last plenary of October or the first one in November.
One thing’s for sure – we certainly won’t be bored over the next few months. But however busy it may get, never fear, EURACTIV’s agrifood team is here to guide you through the developments and keep you up to speed with all the agricultural goings-on.
Keep an eye out as well for our new and improved agrifood podcast, where we’ll discuss the big burning issues and the weekly agrifood news with the help of distinguished guests.
We hope these little appetisers helped whet your appetite for the courses to come – bonne dégustation!
(G.F and N.F)
Stories of the week
CAP deal lays ground for third ‘social’ pillar
The post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform agreement struck in June introduced a new concept of social dimension that bears the potential to build a third “pillar” for the EU’s farming subsidy programme in the near future. Gerardo Fortuna has more.
MEPs blast Commission’s flagship forest strategy as vague, overstepping EU remit
European lawmakers from across the political spectrum have united in criticism against the European Commission’s new flagship Forest Strategy, describing it as vague and superficial while flagging concerns that it goes beyond the remit of EU competences. Natasha Foote has more.
UK government banks on domestic workforce as struggling food sector calls for new visas
The UK food sector has called for a new COVID-19 recovery visa to address workforce shortages but the government has been non-committal, stressing instead that it does not aim to rely on labour from abroad. Natasha Foote has the story.
First gene edited ‘cancer-cutting’ wheat trials get the go ahead in UK
The British government has granted permission for a series of field trials of gene edited wheat for the first time in Europe, marking a significant move away from the EU’s stance on the matter. Learn more.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Green agri goals achievable but risk being undermined by carbon leakage – report
Sustainability goals in the agrifood sector are achievable but risk being undermined by weak trade policies, a new assessment by the European Commission’s in-house scientists has found. Natasha Foote has the details.
First post-Brexit protected food not in conflict with existing EU geographical indication
There is no overlap between the first post-Brexit geographical indication under the new UK’s framework and an existing one registered in the EU in 2003, EU and UK officials confirmed. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.
Austrian organic farmers fear being left behind in national CAP plan
Organic associations and environmentalists have voiced their concerns about Austria’s plan to transpose the EU’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), pointing to the risk of leaving organic farms behind. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Insects on the menu for pigs, poultry after EU approval
The European Commission has amended the EU’s feed ban regulation to authorise the use of processed animal proteins derived from insects in poultry and pig feed, hoping to help create a “more sustainable feed chain”, in line with its flagship food policy. Natasha Foote has more.
EU tightens limits on cancer-causing cadmium, lead levels in food
The European Commission has set new maximum levels for two cancer-causing food contaminants, cadmium and lead, in a range of food products, due to enter into force at the end of the month. Learn more.
CAP Tracker: So, the deal is (very nearly) sealed, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the CAP fun. We have our eyes on the next steps for the EU’s farming subsidy programme and we’ll be updating all the latest developments regularly in our new EURACTIV CAP tracker to see how member states are progressing with their National Strategic Plans. Check it out here.
Advances on CAP money: Back at the beginning of August, the Commission allowed farmers to receive higher advances of both income support and rural development schemes provided by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in a bid to cope with cash flow issues due to the COVID-19 crisis and adverse weather conditions.
Calls for transparency: A wide range of civil society organisations from nine different member states have sent a joint letter to the European Commission DGs with shared competences on the CAP to demand concrete actions in setting up an approval procedure for CAP strategic plans that is open and ambitious in terms of policy coherence, transparency and stakeholder engagement. Learn more.
News from the bubble
All the August news
We hope that you all managed to switch off to enjoy a relaxing summer break. Now that it’s time to get back to business, we’ve put together everything you need to get you up to speed on everything you missed over the summer break.
Feeling the heat: This summer has seen a series of natural catastrophes, from wildfires spread across the EU to floods, both devastating agricultural land at enormous cost to the sector. Questions are already arising as to the impact this will have on production, for example on honey production, while questions are being raised as to how best implement strategies for the prevention of future catastrophes.
GM crop authorisation: On 17 August, the European Commission authorised seven new genetically modified crops for use as food and animal feed and reauthorised three others. In a statement, the Commission said that all of these GMOs have gone through a “comprehensive and stringent authorisation procedure”, including a favourable scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority. The authorisation decisions do not cover cultivation. The authorisations are valid for 10 years, and any product produced from these GMOs will be subject to the EU’s labelling and traceability rules.
Harmonised risk indicators: On 10 August, the Commission published updated EU harmonised risk indicators for pesticides for the period 2011-2019 for the EU. These indicators show the trends in the risks associated with the use of pesticides since 2011.
Black gold: According to a recent JRC-led article, soil loss by water erosion is projected to increase by 13–22.5% in the EU and UK by 2050, mainly due to increased rainfall intensity. This soil loss is expected to be greatest in central and northern Europe, which could see losses of up to 100% in some areas.
Ice cream, you scream, we all scream for… If this summer you enjoyed a lot of ice-cream – like we did – and you want to know more about this sector in Europe, Eurostat released some figures that might interest you – you’ll be surprised to hear that Germany has nabbed the top spot as the biggest ice-cream producer in Europe
Educational campaign: The EU’s food safety agency (EFSA) launched an educational campaign to encourage citizens to think critically and follow scientific advice in their everyday food choices. The campaign focused on topics such as the difference between “use by” and “best before” dates, health claims, allergens and additives.
Pig protection: EFSA has launched a public consultation to gather views on protecting pigs as part of their ongoing work on the Farm to Fork strategy, including whether the current draft opinion covers relevant husbandry systems and practices for keeping pigs.
Consumers back origin labelling: A new Commission report on the mandatory indication of the country of origin or place of provenance for certain meats, including poultry, swine, goat and sheep, has found that it provides “meaningful information” for consumers and for control of compliance by competent authorities.
Labelling: Speaking of food alliances, another one between giant food manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Nestlé and Danone and huge retailers like Tesco, Lidl and Aldi will push on front-of-pack environmental scores. The groups is backing the NGO Foundation Earth to develop an environmental scoring system to be rolled out at scale across Europe.
On the topic of labelling, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), called for the adoption of the NutriScore as the mandatory EU front-of-pack nutritional label in light of evidence of its public health benefits this week.
Geographical indications: The European Commission approved the application for the registration of two geographical indicators from Hungary, ‘Jászsági nyári szarvasgomba’, a local fresh variety of underground mushroom, and ‘Nagykunsági birspálinka’, a fruit spirit made from quince, as well as one from La Réunion, a vanilla pod ‘Vanille de l’île de La Réunion’.
Food shortages: In other news from the UK, the EU’s former member has run into a number of food issues over the past few weeks. From beer shortages to food and worker shortages, the UK food sector has been hit hard, leading the UK National Farmers’ Union to warn that if action is not taken, the sector could soon hit “breaking point”.
Really milking it: The EU’s dairy association has warned that trade between the EU and the UK is no longer frictionless and the “picture is not improving”. They added a warning that the gradual introduction of certificates and controls from 1 October in the UK will create additional hurdles and costs. “We continue to call for enhanced cooperation and pragmatic solutions,” they said in a tweet.
Geroni-no: The story of Geronimo the alpaca who tested positive for bovine tuberculosis (TB) came to an end this week after the alpaca was euthanised by British authorities. The story, which has captured hearts and minds over the past few weeks, has also placed TB back on the agenda while shedding a light on the heart–breaking reality faced by livestock farmers, who continue to lose thousands of animals a year to this disease and face the stress of regular testing.
Veterinary certificates delay: The entry into force of the new veterinary certificates for animals and animal-origin products imported in the EU will be pushed back to January 2022. The new framework was set up in the Animal Health Law and was supposed to be applied mandatorily from 21 August but the Commission postponed the launch after complaints from EU importers as the new system is not yet running in several member states.
Eggscellent news: Meanwhile, Belgian retailers Okay, Delhaize and Colruyt have taken up commitments to improve the animal welfare of their hens after signing up to the ‘Better Chicken Commitment’.
It’s the wurst: German carmaker Volkswagen (VW) decided to remove their iconic curry wurst from the restaurant at the brand headquarters in a bid to offer its employees a more meat-free diet. However, the move could be seen as a way to reduce company’s carbon footprint, as VW is a producer of pork sausage employing about 30 workers, including trained butchers. According to a note by the company, in 2017 VW made 6.8 million currywurst – more than the number of cars the brand sold worldwide in that year. Contacted by EURACTIV, the company did not answer the questions whether it expects an improvement of its carbon footprint performance by dealing less with meat or if this could be seen as a first step of a progressive disinvestment in their meat production.
An ‘epic’ partnership: A retail alliance called ‘Epic Partners’ was launched this August by European supermarket chains, including Germany’s Edeka, Portugal’s Jeronimo Martins and the Dutch Picnic. According to retail and wholesale lobby EuroCommerce, the alliance is expected to negotiate better arrangements with food makers, as supermarkets have recently experienced price increases.
News from the Capitals
Four of Italy’s regions responsible for the lion’s share of national tomato output – Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, and Molise – have raised the alarm about the lack of seasonal workers in the month of August. According to Campania’s agriculture councilor and former MEP Nicola Caputo, 20% of the produce was already rotten in the fields as of mid-August because the hot wave accelerated the maturation of tomatoes. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Berlin campus canteens will almost completely scrap meat to reach climate goals. In time for the start of the new academic year in October, the 34 canteens and cafes of the German capital’s universities will offer a menu that is 96% vegetarian or vegan, while a single meat or fish option will only be available on four days per week. According to Studierendenwerk Berlin, the organisation running the restaurants, apart from reducing the universities’ carbon footprint, the decision was also taken to react to rising demand for meat-free options. Several of Berlin’s universities have made pledges to reach climate neutrality by 2030 or 2045. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)
In an op-ed published by the Tribune this week, French Agrifood minister Julien Denormandie and Secretary of State for Digital transition Cédric O called for stronger links between agricultural know-how and the power of French Tech. They argued that, as the top agricultural and tech nation within the EU, France should build the strength and sovereignty of its agriculture on new technologies and innovations and better accompany developments in the agritech and foodtech sectors. Innovation could help to improve animal welfare, the production of healthy and sustainable food, but also farmers’ work conditions and the attractiveness of the agricultural sector for future generations, they stated.
The European Commission has approved a €10 million Portuguese scheme to support farmers in the outermost region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus.
The reform of the EU’s common agricultural policy is causing consternation among some Irish farmers, who are concerned that the bloc’s green ambitions will imperil their livelihoods, according to the Financial Times. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Mexico has officially opened its doors to British pork for the first time in a deal that could be worth £50 million over the first five years of trade according to Farming UK News. It follows over four years of negotiations and inspections. Global UK pork exports were worth over £421 million to the economy in 2020, reaching 75 export markets worldwide. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
5-7 September | An informal meeting of agriculture ministers will be held in Brdo pri Kranju
6-10 September | There is the 20th Organic World Congress
7 September | EURACTIV is holding an event on the impact of forest restoration and tree-planting on climate change mitigation
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]