The most highly anticipated EU agrifood moment of this week – apart from the unveiling of the EU cancer plan with its direct repercussions on the alcohol and the meat sector – was the deadline for amendments by MEPs to the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F).
Although it might have been somewhat overshadowed by the recent focus on the ongoing negotiations to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the F2F strategy remains a crucial blueprint to test the level of ambition for making Europe’s food systems more sustainable.
The set of measures included in the strategy, as well as – for some welcome, for others controversial – targets, represents the vision for European agriculture in the decades to come.
When the clock finally struck 11am on 2 February – the above-mentioned deadline – the number of amendments tallied up to an impressive 2,297.
“I guess a lot of them will be identical so the number will be reduced,” Herbert Dorfmann, one of the two Parliament’s rapporteurs on this sensitive dossier, (perhaps hopefully) told EURACTIV. “More than 2000 is a lot. We will try to deal with it,” he added.
Interviewed in EURACTIV’s Agrifood podcast, he put this huge number of amendments down to the fact that the F2F covers many interests, from farmers to the processing industry, to the retailers to the consumers.
“I felt from the very beginning that there is a high interest in this file,” he said.
And a huge endeavour is now needed to get to the grips of this box full of 2,297 surprises. This will be the main task of the two rapporteurs of the file, one for the Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI), one for the agricultural (COMAGRI) ones.
But, much like they belong to two different committees, the two rapporteurs also belong to two very different schools of thought.
Anja Hazekamp, the ENVI rapporteur, is a leftist MEP and a leading member of the Dutch Party for the Animals, and therefore, very keen to topics such as environment and animal protection or fighting climate change.
The COMAGRI warhorse, Herbert Dorfmann, is an agronomist from German-speaking Italy’s province Alto Adige/Südtirol, perceived as much closer to farmers’ interests.
Two different personalities, two different ways to look at the world. But this diversity is key to ensuring all sides of the issues get heard.
Over the past few months, the spotlight has been dominated by several specific bones of contention in this F2F battle; namely, the targets on pesticide, whether to favour the shift toward more plant-based diets or the never-ending row on mandatory front-of-pack labelling.
What has come to the fore in the Parliament’s debate on Thursday (4 February) is that the farmers’ role in this transition toward more sustainable food systems is not yet well-defined.
The farmers’ lobby has been so far quite combative, as they are reluctant to shoulder the lion share of the blame, which explains why so far they’ve received the F2F with a fair amount of scepticism.
Speaking before MEPs, vice-president of farmers association COPA-COGECA, Massimiliano Giansanti, took a cue from the recent debate on the unhealthiness of some traditional European foodstuffs, asking whether there are other parts of the economy that might have a much broader impact on health or on the environment than farming.
“I’m wondering whether the use of cars is something natural, or do we say that cars are not polluting?” he said, adding other sectors of the economy need a similar kind of reflections.
Hazekamp criticised what Giansanti said for creating an apparent conflict between farm interests and environmental interests.
“But global warming drought to these threats are key threats for farmers. So this is in the interests of farmers to ensure sustainability,” she said.
Dorfmann, needless to say, was on Giansanti’s side, warning that farmers need to be on board and that the strategy, as it is now, does not do that.
“It tells them, it teaches them, but we have to bring them with us and make sure that they have a responsibility as well in this project,” he said.
Perhaps the reason why this is a touchy subject for farmers is that they have suffered from heavy agri-bashing over the past years.
“We’re not hostile. Farmers shouldn’t be seen as someone just to attack. We want to protect everyone’s interest. But we have to be seen as key players with an active role in the change,” replied Giansanti.
The impression is that once the role of farmers, including their responsibilities and their potential in the transition, is cleared up once and for all, the debate will become less harsh. But ideological positions, on one side and the other, are still present in this debate.
Agrifood news from this week
The European Commission has softened its stance on phasing out the promotion of red and processed meat in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and the latest change has received a mixed reception from stakeholders. Gerardo Fortuna has more.
Alcoholic drinks have been treated differently to tobacco products in Europe’s Beating cancer plan, as overuse, not its use, will be targeted by the Commission’s initiatives. Learn more here.
The food services sector has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic, but governments are struggling to find ways to reopen safely. Read more.
The EU food safety agency EFSA is to provide scientific advice to support the development of a future EU-wide system for front-of-pack nutrition labelling of foodstuffs, including setting conditions for nutrition and health claims on foods. See here for more details.
European lawmakers have backed the European Commission’s proposal to extend the length of an aid package for winegrowers by a year. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.
News from the bubble
CAP draft agreements laid bare: The EU Commission has released its 4-column document outlining the most recent draft agreements on the future of the CAP reform. See here for the January document.
CAP trilogue analysis: A policy analysis, commissioned by Green MEP Martin Häusling, on ‘Post-2022 CAP in Trilogue Negotiations: Reflections and Outlook for CAP Strategic Plans’ has been released this week. The analysis, by policy coordinator and analyst for ARC2020, Matteo Metta, and Sebastian Lakner, Professor of agricultural economics at the German University of Rostock, concluded that the Commission is playing a stronger role at this stage than in previous reforms in an attempt to integrate European Green Deal considerations into the debate.
Crunching numbers: The European Commission published a proposal this week for regulation designed to align agricultural input and output statistics with other key priorities of the von der Leyen Commission, including the Green Deal. The proposal highlights that new data should include aggregated crop and animal production statistics, as well as offer insight into pesticides and fertilisers. The regulation may also include agricultural price statistics. To learn more about the importance of agricultural statistics, be sure to check out EURACTIV’s explainer.
Fishy business: The European Commission has launched “Taste the Ocean”, a brand new social network campaign in which top chefs promote the consumption of sustainably caught or produced fish and seafood. The campaign comes at a time when fishermen and fish farmers are struggling with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen the closure of many of the main outlets for their products. With this campaign, the Commission aims to raise consumer awareness of the importance of local, seasonal and sustainable consumption. “When properly produced or harvested, seafood can play an important role in a sustainable diet, with a much smaller environmental footprint and carbon footprint than most terrestrial animal proteins,” a Commission press release stated on Friday (5 February).
Black gold: The European Commission has launched an online public consultation on the development of a new EU Soil Strategy. This is the last of a set of public consultations on different ecosystems delivering on the specific commitments in the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030
Future of rural areas: The Committee of the Regions’ (CoR) Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) and the AGRI Committee had a joint meeting to discuss a long-term vision for rural areas this week. While the European Commission is going to publish a communication on a long-term vision for rural areas in mid-2021, the CoR adopted an opinion on this topic in December 2020. The President of the NAT Commission and the rapporteur for this opinion presented the opinion to AGRI Members.
Geographical indications: The European Commission has approved the application for the inclusion of “Périgord walnut oil” from France in the register of protected designations of origin (PDO) and of “Rudarska greblica” from Croatia in the register of protected geographical indications (PGI).
Agrifood news from the capitals
Croatia has many advantages from EU membership, but for Croatian farmers it also means that older member states’ market surpluses end on the Croatian market at dumping prices, MP Marijana Petir has said according to news outlet N1. Speaking in a debate on the future of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Croatia’s adjustment to reforms, organised in Zagreb on Tuesday (2 February), she said that it is difficult for them to keep up with farmers in other member states due to internal reasons and the conditions on the single European market. “It’s neither sustainable nor just that older member states’ market surpluses end on new member states’ markets at dumping prices because that destroys our producers and they are faced with insurmountable differences,” she said. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston told the UK House of Commons this week that he is prepared to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol to allow the free movement of agri-food produce across the UK. “[We will] do everything we need to do, whether legislatively or indeed by invoking Article 16 of the Protocol, to ensure that there is no barrier down the Irish Sea,” he said on Wednesday (3 February). His comments come of increasing issues concerning agrifood trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, including plants, seed potatoes and British beef. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Coordinated by the German Farmers’ Association (DBV), farmers held a protest outside the Chancellery on Thursday (4 February) to demand that Chancellor Merkel stop the planned insect protection law, which is set for agreement in the cabinet on 10 February. The package has been a point of contention between the agriculture and environment ministries (BMEL and BMU), as EURACTIV has previously reported. The two ministries met on Thursday to try and iron out their differences on the legislation. Noting the importance of insect protection to German farmers, DBV President Joachim Rukwied issued a statement, asserting that the proposal would have “fatal consequences” and “thousands of farming families will lose their livelihood.” Rukwied and other critics assert that the new rules would destroy the current work that farmers are doing in environmental protection. Despite the criticism from the BMEL and farmers’ associations, environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) is holding firm on passing the legislation. “The law needs to be passed in this legislative session. For me, this is all taking far too long already,” she told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
The President of the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has called for the minister for agriculture to conduct an impact analysis of the EU’s Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies to account for economic and social implications of the policies. “I’m urging the Minister not to delay any longer in asking Teagasc to commence this analysis. We’ve been calling for Irish and European impact assessments of these proposals for some time now,” Cullinan said. The strategies are both key components of the EU’s Green Deal. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Reacting to news this week that the Spanish government has moved to increase protection for wolves, the Spanish young farmers association (ASAJA) has warned this leaves farmers vulnerable. “We demand that Minister Planas defend the ranchers because otherwise they will be the ones who end up being a protected species,” they warned in an online statement. The measures mean that farmers will not be able to defend themselves against attacks on their animals, attacks that end each year with “more than 4,000 animals including cows, calves, sheep and goats in only Castile and Leon,” the association says. “Prohibiting wolf hunting is not defending the wolf, it is giving a frontal attack to extensive ranchers in northern Spain who have to maintain an increasingly less profitable economic activity,” they added. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
EURACTIV Poland’s media partner Gazeta Wyborcza reports warns of “soaring” wheat prices pushing up the price of grain-based produce such as bread and grain-fed cattle. It also notes that, as a result, around 2 million tonnes of wheat and similar amounts of other cereals have already been exported from Poland since July 2020, an increase of roughly half compared to the previous year. According to “Wyborcza”, Poland is estimated to have around 400 thousand tons of wheat at its disposal. As 350 thousand tons of wheat are processed in Poland monthly to produce flour needed for the internal market, this means that the reserves will suffice for a month. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)
Circulating in France since November, bird flu continues to ravage the country. On 1 February, the French agency for food, environmental and occupational health and safety (ANSES) confirmed no fewer than 422 hotspots of the highly pathogenic influenza virus, 409 of which are situated in the south-west of France. In order to halt the spread, measures had recently been reinforced, including a larger radius for preventive killing of poultry and the creation of the surveillance zones where entering and releasing fowl is strictly forbidden. Over the course of the last month, 2 million fowl, mostly ducks, have so far been killed to prevent further propagation of the bird flu. In order to help affected farmers, the government has announced financial aid under the French recovery plan and a payment facility to compensate farmers for their losses has been set up. (Lucie Duboua-Lorsch| EURACTIV.fr)
8-11 February – Rescheduled from October 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 47th Plenary Session of the Committee on World Food Security will convene online under the theme “Making a Difference in Food Security and Nutrition”. Find the provisional agenda here.
9 February – The European network for rural development is organising a workshop to support the preparations for the future CAP Strategic Plans, focusing on the programming of regional-level interventions. See here for more details.
10 February – The European Commission’s DG AGRI, in partnership with the European Investment Bank, will hold a webinar on ‘financial needs in the agriculture and agri-food sectors in Italy’, which will consider the country’s banking system, major financial players for the two sectors, and what is offered as loans, guarantees and various financial schemes with national and/or EU financing. Stakeholders and managing authorities will also share their experience in working with financial instruments. See here for details.