Agrifood Brief: Foodmakers of all (EU) countries, behave!

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39 - Bubble battles, Mark Ruffalo & code of conduct

This week: EURACTIV spoke with EURACTIV France’s very own Clara Bauer-Babef and Magdalena Pistorius about what the ‘polluter pays’ principle has to do with agriculture and the bubble battle brewing between France and Russia, and we take a look at the newly-launched EU Code of Conduct on responsible food business and marketing practices

The success of the much-awaited EU Code of Conduct on responsible food businesses and marketing practices will depend on how many – and how fast – companies will move from words to deeds.

The Code of Conduct was launched at the beginning of the week (5 July) with a great deal of fanfare as it is one of the first completed deliverables within the framework of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

This means that this code is officially one of the tools in the Commission’s toolbox envisaged to transform the way the EU produces, distributes, and consumes food.

The code’s main goal is to seek voluntary commitments by the so-called ‘middle’ of the food chain – namely food producers, retailers, part of the hospitality sector.

In practice, it is about taking concrete – but voluntary – actions to improve the environmental and social performance, like reformulating foodstuffs, reducing the environmental footprint of production, adapting marketing and advertising strategies, reducing packaging in line with a new circular economy action plan, and so on.

The peculiarity is that it is a true industry code, as the Commission simply played the part of the facilitator, being closely involved in the preparation of the code and in the organisation of meetings.

But the EU executive will also oversee the implementation of the code to make it “a living document by ensuring that it adapts to changing legislation and remains ambitious.”

Even though these kinds of voluntary instruments are not that rare and can be found in many different policy areas, this Commission’s contribution to adapt the code to the evolving legislation is quite innovative for a self-regulatory approach.

Will this work though? It is hard to say that at this stage as it mostly depends on how many associations will sign the code – for now there are 65 signatories – and present individual commitments, as well as on how many will contribute and are interested in engaging with the code.

It’s not only food companies, but also associations in the food sectors and any company or organisation interested in sustainability, that can join.

For instance, financial institutions could sign the code with a view to implementing it in their lending operations, or NGOs in partnership with food companies to promote their sustainability.

Once unlikely, partnerships between NGOs and big companies are becoming increasingly common, as it recently happened during the campaign against the veggie burger ban, which saw a tie between Greenpeace and Nestlé.

The drafting process of the code lasted only three months which can be put down, at least in part, to the fact that the Commission wanted to speed up the dossier in a bid to have it ready for the UN food system summit in September.

“Let’s begin by creating this code as the beginning of this journey as the beginning of our work towards innovative solutions in our food systems and new business models,” said food safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides at the launch event.

Once again, it was not the first time that this self-regulatory approach has been pursued as the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann recently pointed out at an event organised by the European Food Forum.

“I do not have the best memories about what happened with the Unfair Trade Practices (UTP) because we had for years a code of conduct on that which fundamentally didn’t bring any result,” he said.

As we know, the EU lawmakers had to come up with a proper legislative action in the end, which was concluded during the last legislative term.

“I think we should learn from this failure. And we should really try this time to use the approach of a code of conduct to come to a fairer and better food chain,” Dorfmann concluded.

One thing the Commission insisted on was transparency from companies in order to keep track of their progress on commitments.

Big companies will provide an annual report on how their commitments proceed but, in general, every signatory should be accessible to civil society and interested parties via a system of feedback.

Our last take on the Code of Conduct is that despite the importance – again, we’re talking about the first deliverable of the F2F – we have not seen a lot of coverage on big media outlets, nor much buzz in the public opinion.

On the other hand, floods of press releases and emails from the industry have filled the inboxes of agrifood reporters over the past few days, which is something that doesn’t bode well as it might reduce the whole thing to another empty opportunity for corporate communication.

It’s up to the industry to make sure these commitments are the real deal and not another way for keeping people in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) branches busy.

Now it is united, the EU food sector has to behave to make to most of this ‘soft’ instrument before lawmakers have second thoughts and come up with a ‘hard’ tool to reach the Green Deal objectives.

(G.F.)

Agrifood news this week

‘Bubbles’ of contention: Dalmatian prošek irks Italy as it evokes prosecco wine
Italy has promised to give battle after Croatia’s request to get EU protection for its sweet dessert wine, prošek, produced in the southern area of Dalmatia whose name resembles the iconic Italian bubbly wine prosecco. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Agri Commissioner backs call for polluter pays principle in farming
The farming sector should be made financially responsible for pollution, especially water pollution, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors, an idea welcomed by the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner. Natasha Foote has the story.

MEP: Parliament and Council did not listen to each other in CAP talks
MEP Eric Andrieu expressed disappointment about the lack of communications between the two EU lawmakers that led to an unsatisfactory environmental part of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform in an exclusive interview with EURACTIV France.

Green MEP: EU’s gene editing framework stifles innovation
The EU’s regulatory framework on gene editing is insufficient and risks pushing out research and innovation away from the bloc, according to one Green MEP, diverging from her party’s strong stance on the matter. Learn more.

German commission urges phase out of CAP direct payments
The EU’s agricultural subsidies should be restructured to achieve environment and climate goals, including a phase out of direct payments and the reduction of livestock, according to a milestone report from the German commission on the future of agriculture. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Parliament signs off on EU fisheries fund, with lighter conditions for increasing fleet capacity
The European Parliament on Tuesday (6 July) gave the final green light to the post-2020 European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF), the EU’s main tool to support fishing communities, which will allow young fishermen to acquire their first fishing vessel. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

CAP corner

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski met with representatives from farmers association European Coordination Via Campesina, who represent small and medium sized farms, this week to discuss the CAP reform and, in particular, the Eastern European context.

News from the bubble

Support for the wine sector: Representatives of the three main European countries wine producers, namely Spanish, Italian, and French cooperatives, jointed forces to write a letter to European Commission President Ursual von der Leyen this week to demand “concrete and lasting actions to be taken” so to assure the continuity of the sector and of their product after. :We are writing to you after many challenging months where, in addition to the several threats that our sector has been facing for years, the consequences of the US tariffs on European wines, Brexit, the Free Trade Agreements between non-EU partners eroded our export opportunities, and contributed to the weakening of the EU wine position in the international arena,” the letter reads.

Farmers’ confidence: The results from the European farmers’ confidence survey, carried out in seven EU member states and the UK, found a tendency for a slight increase after autumn 2020. However, while the results of the survey show a bit more optimism for the future, they vary across and within countries and even where the sentiment had improved significantly it still remained in the negative spectrum.

India-EU relations: EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski spoke with Indian Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar, in view of “pursuing our agricultural agenda on bilateral and multilateral level at crucial moment of the EU-India relationship”. Topics for discussion included FTA negotiations, CAP reform and the G20.

Short term outlook: The summer 2021 edition of the short-term outlook reportwas published by the European Commission this week, presenting a detailed overview of the latest trends and further prospects for each agri-food sector.

Fit for 55: Wondering how the Fit for 55 package will impact agriculture? Management consultant company McKinsey  has released this report detailing its impact on a range of sectors, including agriculture.

Agrifood News from the Capitals

CZECH REPUBLIC
The newly reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has come under fire from the Czech Republic’s small farmers and environmentalists as the trialogue deal revealed there will not be a mandatory cap placed on direct payments. EURACTIV Czech Republic has more.

SPAIN
The Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, has said that the request of the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, not to consume so much meat is an “unfortunate campaign” that “farmers do not deserve” and “does not do justice” to the meat sector. EURACTIV’s partner EFEAgro reports.

FRANCE
Vlamidir Putin’s announcement last week to ban the word “champagne” from the labels of all imported bottles has caused an outcry in France. Champagne, from the French region of Champagne, has been a protected geographical indication since 1936, recognized in 121 countries – with the exception of Russia, amongst several others. However, in a bid to valorise national products, Putin now wants to reserve the term (“shampanskoye” in Russian) to Russian sparkling wine – while all imported champagne will have to carry the description “sparkling wine” in Russian. In response, the French Champagne Committee has called all French champagne producers to immediately stop exportations to Russia. Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission spokesperson indicated that the institution is currently “assessing whether the law violates Russia’s commitments within the World Trade Organisation and reserves its right to take the necessary measures to rectify” the situation. Learn more on the EURACTIV podcast. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

GERMANY
The German government has agreed on a “National Breastfeeding Strategy”, which aims to improve the conditions for and acceptance of breastfeeding in public and support women who are breastfeeding. “Healthy nutrition is decisive from the very beginning in order to prevent obesity and secondary diseases. Here, breastfeeding is an important factor,” food and agriculture minister Julia Klöckner said. The strategy is a joint project of Klöckner, the health minister and the family and women’s affairs minister. Among other things, the plans include education initiatives and measures to make breastfeeding more compatible with professional life.  (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)

POLAND
Interest in organic food, already a market worth about 1.4 billion PLN (€308 mln), is growing growing rapidly in Poland, while the number of organic farms is also increasing. A report by the BIO Food Market Development Coalition and NielsenIQ found that spending on organic products, however, only accounts for 0.5% of the entire food market. As of the end of 2019, there were 18.6 thousand farms in Poland holding the EU organic logo, and Poland ranks 19th in the world in terms of the area under organic farming (507.6 thousand ha). An average Pole spends €7 a year on organic food, compared to the EU average of €76. While 16 countries have 10% or more of their total agricultural area under organic farming, in Poland it is only 3.5%. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)

UK
The EU urged London on Tuesday (6 July) to consider a Swiss-style veterinary agreement with Brussels on agri-foods to end a post-Brexit ‘sausage war’ row over certain goods moving between Britain and its province of Northern Ireland. Learn more. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
Ireland would require a 10-fold increase in spending in the organic sector in order to help meet the EU 25% organic-land target by 2030, according to a recently published report. The report, from IFOAM Organics Europe, also recommended that, in Irelands case, organic farms should have priority access to agri-environment and eco-schemes to help achieve environmental objectives. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Events

12 July – Excluding certain GM plants from EU requirements for GMO authorisation: Would it really help to make EU farming more sustainable? Find out more in this online event with scientists and experts

12-13 July- There is an AGRI Committee meeting,which includes an exchange with the newly appointed US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday 12 July for an exchange on the future of trans-Atlantic relations on agriculture and food production

12-13 July- There is a conference on the review of the promotion policy for EU agricultural products

13 July – There is a webinar on “Exploring EU-China cooperation to Improve Animal Welfare and Transform Food Systems”, co-organised with the Good Food Fund/CBCGDF in the context of the UN Food Systems Summit China Dialogues.

13 July- There is a European Parliament webinar on healthy lifestyles and fighting child obesity, aimed at getting irst-hand insights from practitioners and European policymakers on the concrete actions that Europe should propose to tackle the rise of obesity rates, especially in children in the EU.

15 July – There is the launch of the latest Food Sustainability Index for the G20, which will be discussed by researchers and specialists from the Barilla Foundation and Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Register here.

16 July – There is an extraordinary AGRI Committee meeting

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