Agrifood Brief: From one peak to another

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.

Very few other theoretical concepts have had a greater impact on recent world history than the ‘peak oil’. And while this eternal debate isn’t over yet, another one is already looming: ‘peak meat’.

In the last few decades, strategic decisions on what percentage can be attributed to each power source in the energy mix were taken based on predictions about when the world’s oil supply might hit its peak.

Analysts and researchers have been trying to figure out when this turning point would come so that societies would be ready for the consequences.

While all the stances in the peak oil debate are founded upon scientific models, they remain nothing more than factual predictions. In other words, more solid than daily horoscope and a bit less certain than the weather report.

In the beginning, these predictions were concerned with mostly the cost and availability of the commodity, while in recent times the impact that peak oil could have on climate change has been taken into account too.

Oil is now largely considered as something we should move away from, as we are bound to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels until we reach climate neutrality.

For one debate that’s on its way out, another one is arising.

On the back of environmental and dietary debates, the concept of peak meat is rapidly emerging, with speculation rife about if and when this milestone will be reached.

And there’s a fair weight of evidence suggesting that our appetite for meat may be satiated.

The FAO, the food and agriculture branch of the United Nations, gives indications that a long-term decline in meat consumption is forecast.

This is thanks, in part, to a rising environmental consciousness, which has sparked the popularity of both veganism and vegetarianism, but also flexitarianism – that is, a conscious decision to moderate meat consumption without ruling it out altogether.

Last year, scientists urged governments to “declare a timeframe for peak livestock”  in a letter in Lancet Planetary Health, saying that this must be incorporated into their updated nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement.

This sets peak meat on course to become a compass needle in the food policy-making, if peak oil is in the field of energy is anything to go by.

In a recent impact assessment on the updated EU Climate Law, the Commission pointed out that “a strong decrease of consumption of animal products for nutrition could potentially reduce emissions by more than 30 million tonnes by 2030.”

That means that the EU executive has already started wondering when the peak meat could be reached in the context of climate neutrality, a major policy goal in the EU agenda.

Other similarities between the two ‘peak’ debates are the corollary on the fate of crucial byproducts – plastic in the case of oil and milk or cheese in the case of meat – as well as the uptake of alternatives, like the plant-based or insect-based alternatives.

However, there are at least three main differences.

First, while oil production should be theoretically halted, in the transition to a sustainable food system meat production should be reduced but not wiped clean.

Perhaps oil will always be bad for the environment no matter what type or how it’s refined, whereas livestock can actually contribute to environmental well-being by improving soil health or sequestrating carbon dioxide.

Second, consumers’ preference and type of commodity play a major role in shaping meat demand.

Of course, when you are at the restaurant, you can opt between a steak or a plant-based burger – if it is still allowed to be called that – but you can also choose between different types of meat.

The different quality of the Libyan sweet crude oil compared to the Brent might be crucial for refineries, but neither perceived nor much cared about by consumers.

Third, price has an impact on consumption in both, but oil prices are influenced by decisions on the production side taken by a legal cartel – the OPEC – that brings together some of the largest producers.

When it comes to meat, the influence of decision-makers on prices and, consequently, on consumption, is much reduced, as is the outreach of any political move that goes in this direction.

Does this mean: peak oil is dead, long live peak meat?

Not so fast, but it’s safe to say we can expect many more conversations on this in the coming years.

(N.F. and G.F.)


Agrifood news this week

Commission revives efforts to take down EU canned food cartel
The EU antitrust regulators launched on Monday (5 October) another investigation to clamp down on anti-competitive business practices that led to a ‘canned vegetable cartel’ in the European food market. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Campaigners call on EU to halt export of banned pesticides
Civil society organisations are calling on the EU to halt the production and export of banned pesticides to third countries, some of which they say can be detected in food sold back to the EU market. Natasha Foote has the story.

EU Court: Origin labelling for food allowed only if ‘justified’
National measures requiring mandatory labelling of origin and provenance for foodstuff are allowed under the EU law but need to be justified, Europe’s highest court has found. Read more here.

No pollinators mean no agriculture, Commission Vice-President warns
Speaking before the European Parliament’s plenary, the Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans cautioned farmers about the need to change tack on European agricultural policy. See here for details.


 “If we continue like this, there will be no pollinators anymore. How are you going to explain this to farmers, when they say ‘let’s keep the present agricultural policy’?” 

Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the EU Commission, speaking before the European Parliament’s plenary this week

 News from the bubble

Mercosur controversy: The EU Parliament voted for a text during the EU Parliament plenary session this week emphasising that the EU-Mercosur agreement cannot be ratified as it stands.

Organic rules postponement: Parliament approved plans to delay new organic rules by one year, saying that delaying new EU rules on producing and labelling of organic products will give farmers and national authorities preoccupied with the effects of the pandemic more time to adjust.

ECA on plastic: There is a significant risk that the EU will not meet its plastic packaging recycling targets for 2025 and 2030, according to a review by the European Court of Auditors. The update of the legal framework for plastic recycling in 2018 reflects the EU’s increased ambitions and could help boost recycling capacity.

Short-term outlook: The third edition of the short-term outlook was published this week which found that, among other things, projections for exports of meat, which were up by more than 15% in the first half of the year, have been revised downwards to +2% due to cases of African Swine Fever cases in wild boars in Germany. These cases resulted in immediate trade restrictions of exports from Germany to key partners, including China, South Korea and Japan. Export growth is now 10% lower for 2021, although the report concluded that this level of growth would not have continued even without the ASF outbreak.

New stakeholder platform: The EU Commission has launched a new multi-stakeholder platform to help protect and restore the world’s forests. In addition to being a forum for exchanges, the platform is to serve as a policy-making tool for informing the Commission’s ongoing work on a legislative proposal to minimise the risk that products linked to deforestation be sold in the European market, planned for the second quarter of 2021.

Geographical indications: The European Commission approved three new geographical indications this week: ‘Olio lucano’ from Italy‘Varaždinski klipič’ from Croatia, and ‘Pebre bord de Mallorca’ from Spain

Cage free farming: 86 MEPs wrote to the European Commission this week urging it to phase out the use of cages for farm animals

Agrifood news from the Capitals

French lawmakers on Tuesday (6 October) approved a draft bill allowing sugar beet growers to use pesticides that are banned to protect honeybees, a move welcomed by farmers hit by crop disease but condemned by green groups as more backsliding by the government. Read more here. (

German Social Democrats want changes to the Mercosur Deal to add social and environmental standards. “A year ago the world looked spellbound at the burning Amazon. This year, the situation is again dramatic: current satellite images show more than 32,000 sources of fire in the rainforest area. This is an increase of 61 percent compared to September 2019, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is doing nothing to contain or prevent the devastating forest fires,” the parliamentary group’s Vice Chairs Sören Bartol and Matthias Miersch told the German Press Agency. This is just the latest in German politicians criticising the deal after Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) and Bavarian leader Markus Söder both expressed their doubts at the trade deal being enacted in its present form. (Sarah Lawton |

The National Farmers Union (NFU) Sugar has urged the government to abandon its proposed tariff-free quota for raw cane sugar imports because of its potential to undercut British growers with sugar grown in ways that would be illegal in the UK, threaten the viability of a British success story and undermine the government’s commitment to developing countries. The UK government has proposed a 260,000 tonne tariff-free quota, something NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly said could lead to growers choosing not to grow the crop any longer and would threaten the future of the sector. (Natasha Foote |

Irish Farmers Association Dairy Chairman Tom Phelan has urged all milk processors to return a fair price to its suppliers, especially those that offered below average prices last month. “There is scope for at least a 1c/L milk price rise, particularly from milk processors that have been paying below average milk prices. Farmers deserve a level playing field when it comes to milk price,” he said. (Natasha Foote |

The agreement on the wholesale price of milk in the Lombardy region has given rise to controversies, L’informatore agrario reported. Crucial for the production of top seller cheese Grana Padano, the agreement was signed between Italy’s farmers’ association Coldiretti and Italatte, a company of the French Lactalis group. However, other farmers lobbies, such as Cia and Confagricoltura, said that new contracts are not in line with market trends and risk bringing the sector to a standstill. (

On Wednesday (7 October), Austria’s Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) announced that the country will be extending its hardship funds for agriculture. “So far, almost 5,000 applications have been received from the agricultural sector. Around €6.5 million have thus been received by farmers. Since the hardship fund is still needed, we are doubling the term to twelve months,” Köstinger said. The extension will allow beneficiaries to receive up to €30,000.

A new government was formed on Tuesday (6 October) and Grzegorz Puda was appointed Minister of Agriculture. Trained in the field of animal husbandry, Puda is in favour of banning the breeding of animals for fur and backs a recent law designed to protect animals. However, his appointment was followed by protests all over the country on Wednesday (October 7th), as agricultural organisations in Poland oppose the new law. (Mateusz Kucharczyk |

Romania’s corn and sunflower crops have been seriously affected drought, according to agriculture minister Adrian Oros. The minister said the final data is not available yet, but, according to estimations, the affected area is around 1 million hectares, “mainly corn and sunflower.” Oros said the government will try to compensate farmers for the drought-induced losses. Earlier this year, the government launched a scheme to aid farmers whose harvests were harmed by the lack of rainfalls. The aid was targeted to farmers that lost part of the autumn-sown crops, and the scheme was approved by the EU Commission in September. (Bogdan Neagu |

Upcoming events

12 October – There is a virtual event featuring former European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik, on how the CAP can deliver a green recovery CAP. See here for more information.

12 October – A COMAGRI meeting will take place via video conference, which will include an exchange of views on the CAP proposal 2021-2027.

13 October – Farmers association COPA-COGECA is holding an event on the “Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and the Future of the EU Countryside-Filling the Gaps”, which will be co-hosted by MEPs

13 October – The Institute for European Environmental Policy will present its new report on the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of ending the use of cages in EU farming, which will be hosted by cross-party MEPs working on cage-free farming. For more details, click here

13 October – There is a EURACTIV virtual conference to discuss the role of poultry in the future farm to fork strategy and the sustainability of the sector.

14 October- The 2020 edition of the primary food processors forum will take place, hosted by MEP Norbert LINS (EPP), Chair of European parlaiment’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. For more information, see here

15 October – There is a EURACTIV event on naming and labelling regulations on plant-based products, such as alternatives to meat and dairy. See here for details

15-16 October – Stakeholders across the food value chain, public authorities, international and civil society organisations, as well as other citizens and the interested public, are invited to join a debate on the implementation of the recently adopted Farm to Fork Strategy. The event will also provide a forum for discussion on the challenges and opportunities linked to the transition to sustainable food systems, as well as on possible further areas of intervention. More information here



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