Agrifood Brief: Fifty shades of green

Your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU.

Welcome to EURACTIV’s AgriFood Brief, your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU. You can subscribe here if you haven’t done so yet.

This week, we speak with: Tilman von Samson, spokesperson of the German Fridays For Future agricultural campaign; Matteo Bonelli, assistant professor of EU law at Maastricht University; Jonathan Ahl, a US-based journalist with St. Louis Public Radio, about the reactions from the farming sector across the pond to Joe Biden’s election; and Will Surman, director of public affairs and communications at the food and drink industry association, FoodDrinkEurope, about their annual report on data and trends in the sector


With all eyes on the ongoing discussions over the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the upcoming delegated acts of the EU Taxonomy Regulation (TR) may have slipped slightly under the radar in the agri world.

But, as we all know, money talks. So the regulation certainly warrants some attention, given that the way investments are made into the sector will also play a huge part in achieving its sustainability goals.

Last Friday (13 November), MEPs voted in favour of a non-binding resolution on the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan (SEIP) and financing the Green Deal.

They stressed that one of the objectives of the SEIP should be to ensure a shift from unsustainable to sustainable economic activities, highlighting that only national and regional programmes with the highest potential to achieve these objectives should receive public investment.

The question is, on which criteria will these investments be judged?

That is where the EU Commission’s new TR comes in. The regulation aims to finally put to bed the thorny issue of what constitutes a truly ‘green’ investment.

Its goal is to create the world’s first-ever “green list” of sustainable economic activities, or taxonomy, based on the best scientific knowledge at our disposal.

The EU reached an agreement on its ‘green’ taxonomy in December 2019, but the details of the delegated acts, of which EURACTIV has been privy to a draft version, are still being hashed out.

To qualify as ‘green’ under the EU Taxonomy, a business activity must be proven to substantially support at least one of the six identified areas. These include climate mitigation and adaption, sustainable water use, circular economy, pollution prevention and control, and biodiversity.

Crucially, they must also do so without doing any “significant harm” to any other criteria, all the while in compliance with minimum social safeguards laid out in existing conventions and UN guidelines.

The establishment of harmonised green criteria will then help investors determine which economic activities can be considered environmentally sustainable, thus navigating the transition to a low-carbon, resilient and resource-efficient economy.

As it stands, asset managers are free to define what is ‘green’, leaving the term wide open for interpretation.

Without a clear legal framework, this ambiguity has led to the financial backing for all kinds of practices which have been washed with every shade of green.

But what does the TR hold for the thorny areas of agriculture, biodiversity, and climate change?

The TR recognises the potential of both perennial and non-perennial crops, as well as livestock, as the agriculture sector’s activities with the potential to offer a substantial contribution to the six main environmental objectives set out by the regulation.

“The agriculture sector currently emits high levels of greenhouse gases and can therefore play a central role in climate change mitigation,” it reads, adding that 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the agricultural sector.

However, it also highlights that in addition to its potential to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions, the agricultural sector can also act as a carbon sink.

The technical screening criteria are therefore designed to reflect this dual role of the sector, as both a foe and friend of climate change.

Addressing the ‘cow’ in the room, the TR highlights that the livestock sector can offer contributions towards climate change mitigation and adaptation, provided it complies with certain conditions.

This includes caveats such as the fact that livestock is not raised on high carbon stock from land-use change, e.g. on land which was previously forested or on peatlands.

It also stresses the importance of good herd management and feeding practices, including the sustainable procurement of feed, especially those with large potential upstream impacts, including soya and palm-oil based feeds.

One area where it highlights livestock’s contribution is in the management and maintenance of permanent grassland, which crops up multiple times in the draft.

The Commission is due to publish a draft of the TR’s delegated acts in the coming days, followed by a four-week consultation before officially making the proposal by 31 December.


Agrifood news this week


Commission back-pedals on CAP withdrawal after rattling farm ministers
Withdrawing the proposal for a reform of the EU’s farming subsidies programme is off the table, the European Commission assured farm ministers after its executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans hinted at this possibility, saying the programme could be better aligned with environmental objectives. EURACTIV’s agrifood team has the story.

Can the EU Commission scrap its CAP plan?
The European Commission’s threat to withdraw its legislative proposal for the post-2020 EU’s farming subsidies programme has irritated EU lawmakers. asked some legal experts to clear the air about the controversy.

Plant biodiversity suffers without livestock grazing, says expert
On the back of a recent European Commission-funded report which called for nuance in the livestock vs environment debate, EURACTIV took a look at the importance of EU grasslands and the role of livestock in maintaining them. Natasha Foote has more.

Policymakers urged to support biofuels to meet transport’s green goals
Governments around the world need to urgently address this year’s 11.6% drop in biofuel output, caused by the pandemic, in order to meet transport’s decarbonisation goals, the head of the renewable energy division at the International Energy Agency (IEA) told EURACTIV in an interview.

Further guidance required for assessment of gene drive technology, says EFSA
Existing guidelines are adequate for evaluating risks associated with gene-drive modified insects, but further guidance is needed for some areas, most notably for environmental risk assessments, according to an opinion of the EU’s food safety agency (EFSA). Read more.

News from the bubble

CAP misalignment with Green Deal: After having voted in favour of Parliament’s position, the chair of the Environment committee Pascal Canfin told the German media Handelsblatt that he now sees a high risk that the CAP reform under negotiations could not be in line with the GreenDeal and the Paris agreement. “If the whole thing ends up in a reform not aligned with the GreenDeal, as the CDU [the party of German farm minister Klöckner but also of Commission president von der Leyen] wants, I’ll vote against it. And I think the majority in the Parliament will do the same,” he said.

In related news, farming ministers from 11 German regions have sent a letter asking the Commission to assert the compliance of the CAP with the Green Deal during the ongoing trilogues with the Council and the Parliament

Animal welfare during transport: There was a meeting of the Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport (ANIT) on Friday (20 November), which included a presentation by and a debate with Nikolaus Križ, head of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) unit on animal and plant health. Križ presented details of EFSA’s mandate for new advice on the welfare of animals in transport, which was requested by the European Commission as part of its review of animal welfare legislation set out in its Farm to Fork strategy.

Where are we at with the CAP?: The EU Commission released a new factsheet this week detailing how it intends to work with the Parliament and the Council over the new CAP reform. It also released a Q&A on the state of play on the CAP reform.


Agrifood news from the capitals


Romanian farmers gathered Wednesday (18 November) in front of government buildings to protest against measures to stop activity in closed markets. Representatives of many farmer associations are calling on the government and local authorities to support all kinds of markets that allow producers to sell agri-food products during the current pandemic, provided they adhere to safety conditions.FRANCE
In France, hunting is a divisive issue, and confinement has done nothing to ease tensions.  While citizens are only allowed a kilometre away from their homes, hunters have obtained a derogation. Some governmental departments are looking to extend the authorisation of hunting to include a wider range of species, but several NGOs have denounced this, including the French Ligue de protection des oiseaux (‘League for the protection of birds’), which has threatened to take legal action against this. (Lucie
Plans to help kickstart the nation’s green recovery have been unveiled this week. The plan involves an £80 million fund for new green jobs, as well as support for the expansion of protected landscapes, increased access to nature, and stronger flood resilience.  (Natasha Foote |

The forecast for olive harvest in Italy has dropped by 30% compared to last year, the Institute of Services for the Agricultural and Food Market (ISMEA) has reported. This year’s harvest suffers from output curtailment in some of the main producing regions such as Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. (Gerardo Fortuna |

Poland received recommendations from the European Commission to draw up their national strategy under the Common Agricultural Policy for the coming years this week. This involves the strengthening of small and medium-sized farms, strong support for organic farming and a focus on improving animal welfare. “We want to support small and medium farms”, announced the Minister of Agriculture Grzegorz Puda.  (Mateusz Kucharczyk |



23 November – There is an event on the role that food trade plays in mitigating disruptions in Latin America and the Caribbean. See here for details. 

26 November – EURACTIV is holding a virtual conference on how the European food system can be changed sustainably, while also minimising the effects of climate change.

26 November – Do plant breeding objectives in public and private research correspond to the EU’s Green Deal and Farm-to-Fork Strategy? Find out more about the future of plant breeding in this webinar, organised by the European Congress of Young Farmers




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