Agrifood Brief: Farm to Fork targets may not be set in stone

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26 - F2F target reversal, agricultural drones, F2F solutions

Farm to Fork targets may not be set in stone

A European Commissioner has for the first time suggested the possibility of revising the ambitious targets of the new EU food policy at a later stage, if anything goes wrong and particularly if food security is threatened.

Speaking before the French Senate, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski made an unexpected comment about the thorny issue of targets in the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy.

“If it were to become apparent that the achievement of the objectives set out in this strategy threatens both food safety and the competitiveness of our agriculture, then these objectives would have to be revised,” he said.

The Polish Commissioner focused in particular on the aspects of food security and farmers’ competitiveness, adding that, as a strategic matter, the F2F should also ensure and maintain both.

“I believe that I have won my case here and there will be a follow-up to this strategy with regard to food security and the competitiveness of our agricultural sector,” he said.

With a single remark, Wojciechowski reaffirmed the primacy of food security over environmental aspects when it comes to agriculture, making clear as well that the F2F may not be necessarily a one-way trip.

Just two weeks ago, the Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius argued the contrary, saying that food security is no longer a major concern for the EU.

For the young Lithuanian, other challenges are dominating the European food system, such as food waste, overconsumption, obesity and its overall environmental footprint.

This difference of opinion shows that not everyone in Ursula von der Leyen’s College is on the same page and that it would be useless to deny conflicting interests or tensions in the Commission’s services.

As for any Commission initiatives with impact on various policy areas, the F2F has been prepared based on cooperation and consultation among all Commission services concerned, a source at EU executive has recently told EURACTIV.

However, it did not go unnoticed that Wojciechowski himself was not invited to the house-warming party of the Farm to Fork – the launching press conference – although he represents a directorate-general, the DG AGRI, which had played a major role in drafting the strategy.

With his comment, Wojciechowski may have tipped his hand ahead of time, showing that food security is expected to be DG AGRI’s red line in the discussion on F2F’s delivery.

Indeed, the focus is now moving on how the F2F can be practically implemented after the debate over the targets has inevitably prompted extensive attention so far.

On this very point, the Commission criticised once again the agreement reached by the European Parliament and the Council on a two-year temporary scheme before the next EU farming subsidies programme starts.

The Commission believes that a one-year Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) divide would fit better in the context of both F2F implementation and ‘Next Generation EU’, the Commission’s €750 billion Recovery Fund aimed at reviving and transforming the bloc’s economy.

“We also have to remind both Parliament and the Council that one of the options that remain on the table is to withdraw the proposal,” a Commission representative told MEPs in the Agriculture Committee on Monday (6 July).

The fact that the Commission does not seem to give in on this matter sounded like a threat to MEPs, who didn’t look willing to relinquish their lawmaking independence for the sake of speeding up the implementation of the F2F.

(G.F)

Agrifood news this week

 

Green party insists no U-turn on gene-editing despite recent dissent

Following a paper in which a group of German Green MPs and one MEP unexpectedly backed the use of gene-editing technologies, EURACTIV spoke to MEP Martin Häusling, agriculture spokesman for the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament, who stressed that nothing has changed for the party, which has historically been vocally opposed to the technology. Natasha Foote has the story.

Farm to Fork: In search of a solution-oriented approach
The debate over the targets specified in the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F) has inevitably prompted extensive attention, both before and after the strategy was launched. But the initial focus on the ‘numbers’ of the EU’s new flagship food policy – such as the percentage of cuts in pesticide, fertiliser and antibiotic use – drew the attention away from its constructive aspects. In this special report, EURACTIV.com explores the ways in which innovation and a well-balanced regulatory framework can help to cope with the trade-offs that every transition inevitably presents.

EU farmers: Unlock potential of agricultural drones or risk falling behind
Agriculture stakeholders are calling on the European Commission to update the sustainable use of pesticides directive (SUD) and allow the use of drones for aerial spraying of pesticides. They stress that this can help farmers reduce their use of pesticides in line with the ambitions of the EU’s new flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy. Read more here.

Putting all pieces together is Farm to Fork’s nitty-gritty
Reconciling all the numerous policy areas involved in the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy within one coherent framework has become one of the toughest challenges in the implementation of the EU’s new flagship food policy. Gerardo Fortuna reports.

EU action ineffective in safeguarding wild pollinators, say auditors 
EU measures have been largely ineffective in preventing the decline of wild pollinators, according to a new review from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Read more.

Quote of the Week

“We are trying to change our approach to rural development not only in the Common Agricultural Policy but also through the European Green Deal. We cannot micromanage the whole continent from Brussels, but together we can set the direction of our common work. Our message to rural communities should be: if you choose to go green or digital, it will pay off.”

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, during a conference on rural areas

Agrifood news from the Capitals

ITALY
It is wrong to say that ensuring both food security and food safety in Europe is an objective that has already been achieved and can be taken off the table, the chief of Italy’s farmers’ organisation Confagricoltura told EURACTIV Italy in an interview. Massimiliano Giansanti reacted to the Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who recently told MEPs that food security is no longer a major concern for the European Union. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

CROATIA
The Croatian Chamber of Agriculture has called on consumers, buyers, and traders to help domestic vegetable producers and buy their vegetables to help relieve an unenviable market situation in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Karla Junicic has the story. (EURACTIV.hr)

GERMANY
For the first time ever, the German agriculture ministry has requested input from citizens, farmers, and associations on its future strategy. Starting on Tuesday (7 July), people can submit their ideas, research and experience online, which will be available until 28 July. The so-called “Agriculture Strategy 2035” will be dedicated to sustainability, securing crops, resources, and yields, and biodiversity. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

AUSTRIA
On Tuesday (7 July), Austria’s centre right (ÖVP) and green coalition, with votes from the far-right FPÖ, passed the “Forest Fund” worth €350 million. The package aims to help the forestry sector, which has recently struggled with storms and pest damage, and is intended to be used for investments in sustainability and other future-oriented goals, such as reforestation. But the package was criticised for being a one-off, with critics claiming that it lacked transparency.  (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE
The former minister of housing, Julien De Normandie, has taken over as minister of agriculture and food. An agronomist by training, he has become the fourth Minister of Agriculture under Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. He is charged with taking care of food sovereignty after the COVID-19 crisis and implementing the green transition in agriculture and food-processing. (Anne Damiani EURACTIV.fr)

UK
The UK agriculture bill, set to be the biggest shake-up in UK farming for over 40 years, is steadily progressing through Parliament and has now passed to the House of Lords Committee stage. In this stage, each line of the bill will be scrutinised in detail and discussed before it continues onto its next step in its journey to becoming law. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

ROMANIA
Every farmer that was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will get some kind of support, and details will be published in the coming weeks, agriculture minister Adrian Oros said last week. Romania’s government plans to invest more than €400 million in agriculture and the food industry, according to a national plan of investment and economic recovery unveiled last week by the Executive. The plan includes the development of a network of regional storage facilities for food products, grants for buying irrigation equipment, grants for entrepreneurs in the rural areas and help for young farmers. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

POLAND
Farmers are making their mark on the presidential elections. In the first round of voting on Sunday (28 June), the incumbent president Andrzej Duda garnered the greatest support among farmers, receiving 71.8% of farmers’ votes. The second round of presidential elections will take place on Sunday (12 July). (Mateusz Kucharczyk| EURACTIV.pl)

On our radar

The European Commission adopted an additional package of exceptional measures to support the wine sector on Tuesday (7 July) following the coronavirus crisis and its consequences on the sector. The wine sector is among the hardest hit agri-food sectors, due to rapid changes in demand and the closure of restaurants and bars across the EU, which was not compensated by home consumption. Learn more here. 

The European Commission published the latest short-term outlook report for EU agricultural markets on Monday (6 July) which presents a more detailed overview of the latest trends and further prospects for each agri-food sector. See here for more information. 

Events 

15 July – COMAGRI Committee meeting of the European Parliament. As Germany takes over the reins of the rotating Presidency, Julia Klöckner, German minister for food, agriculture and consumer protection, will attend to present the priorities of the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the field of agriculture. See here for a draft agenda of the meeting.

 

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