Agrifood Brief: Old McDonald’s had a farm

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And on that farm, he had some…solar panels? Well, if this week’s Salon de l’Agriculture is anything to go by, he does.

For those of you who don’t know, the Salon de l’Agriculture is an international agricultural show set in the unlikely heart of France’s capital, Paris.

In short, it’s the agri-place to be for anyone who’s anyone in the farming world.

And while it might not quite be Glastonbury, this farming festival still manages to draw quite a crowd.

It’s no exaggeration to say thousands of people flock to the salon from all over France each and every year.

This year spirits were even higher than usual as the exposition was cancelled the year before due to COVID. Not to mention it provided a (very welcome) brief respite from the doom and gloom of the week. 

But that’s not all. There are also hundreds of animals, from the standard farmyard friends like cows and pigs, chickens, to the slightly more exotic likes of camels.

And with six halls full of stands on everything from carbon farming to sampling the delights of French cuisine (including more cheese samples than is wise for anyone to consume in two days), there’s a flavour to suit everyone’s tastes. This includes children who got the chance to play in a mock vet’s practice or cycle their way to blending a smoothie. 

While everyone’s motives for coming to the salon differed slightly, there was a common theme of agricultural pride in food culture and heritage, which was, frankly, heartening to see.

In an era where I once overheard a child reply to the question “where does milk come from?” with “the supermarket!”, the exposition provides a welcome opportunity for kids and parents to gain a glimpse of farm life and a better understanding of where the food they eat really comes from. 

I was particularly impressed to hear one child, who could not have been much older than 10, questioning a scientist on the process of water purification and fertiliser runoff.

The show also threw up some interesting questions about the trade-offs between inspiring people and bringing them closer to their food with the realities of bringing a farm to Paris, such as animal welfare. 

Many of the animals were visibly distressed at being in an unnatural setting under bright lights and surrounded by people. 

An on-site vet assured me that they took all possible precautions to ensure that the animals were comfortable and trained to be in such circumstances but conceded that it was likely to be a stressful situation for the animals. 

Meanwhile, the salon attracted a whole host of industry players who were all keen to show off their sustainability credentials. 

McDonald’s (whose presence was met with protests when they first appeared at the exposition 20 years ago) had a particularly impressive stand, replete with videos on its contribution to the future of French agriculture, which involved a heavy emphasis on carbon farming and local sourcing.

It was also interesting to note that industry players, in general, had, at least on the shiny surface, changed their tune when it comes to putting the power back into farmers’ hands.

For example, food retailer Lidl showcased a programme whereby the supermarket giant commits to buying produce at a price set by the farmers themselves over a set number of years.  

Others had even bigger plans on the horizon for farmers, with many stands emphatically extolling the benefits of things like biogas and solar panels on farms as ways for extra income, echoing the European Commission, who has recently placed a strong emphasis on this in light of the energy crisis stemming from the war in Ukraine. 

Unfortunately, it was somewhat harder to track down a farmer on the stands to hear their take on these plans.

It’s been pointed out to me that it’s getting harder and harder for farmers to take the time away from the farm to attend events like this, especially as the size of farming teams is dwindling.

The farmers I did speak with demonstrated that while the industry is keen on bringing their practice closer to farmers, some interesting cracks remain.

One farmer I spoke to expressed concerns about the growing emphasis for farmers to branch out into schemes to add complementary revenues. 

“We just want to make food. That’s what farmers are supposed to do,” they said. 

The need to bring the farm closer to the fork (or ‘fourchette‘, in this case) has never been clearer, and expositions like this help bridge this widening gap. But we should have a long hard think about how to do this in a way that includes farmers’ voices in the mix and is fair for all involved.

(by Natasha Foote)

Podcast

Agrifood Podcast: Ukraine, food security, Salon de l'Agriculture

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team gives you the run down on the impact of the war on Ukraine on the EU’s agrifood sector and are joined by EURACTIV’s Alice Taylor

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team gives you the rundown on the impact of the war on Ukraine on the EU’s agri-food sector and are joined by EURACTIV’s Alice Taylor to hear why it might mean that bread is off the table in Albania. We also have an agrifood podcast first with live reporting from the Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris, and for those of you with a sweet tooth, we take a closer look at sugar.

Agrifood stories of the week

Commission mulls new communication on impact of energy crisis on the agri sector
The European Commission is considering a new, separate communication on the impact of the energy crisis explicitly focused on the agriculture sector alongside a broader communication on the energy crisis, according to sources. Natasha Foote has the story

EU to look again at Green deal goals in farming to ensure food security
The European Commission will look again at the objectives of its main sustainable food policies, the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategy, to see if they can ensure Europe’s food security in the aftermath of the Ukraine war. Gerardo Fortuna explains all.

Ukraine war puts EU food security into spotlight, agri sector told to brace for impact
The war in Ukraine has thrown the thorny issue of food security in the EU to the fore as the European Commission warns the EU agri-food sector to brace itself for impact, both now and in the long term. Natasha Foote reports.

EU sanctions on Belarus target key fertiliser amid rising input prices
The EU has banned all imports from Belarus of potash, an important fertiliser that is largely deficient in Europe, in a move that puts further pressure on the agriculture sector already struggling with an input price hike. Learn more.

Romania submits CAP strategic plan, only Belgium still missing
Two months after the deadline set by the European Commission, Romania submitted its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plan, its agriculture ministry said on Tuesday (1 March). This brings the grand total of national submissions to 26, with only Belgium missing. EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu has more.

Climate change puts increasing pressure on food production, finds IPCC
Ongoing global warming will likely put a major strain on food systems and could make millions worldwide subject to food insecurity, a new report published today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds. Julia Dahm reports.

Agrifood Podcast Special Edition: Knowledge (sharing) is power

In this special edition of the agrifood podcast, EURACTIV’s agrifood team takes a closer look at knowledge sharing in the agricultural sector

In case you missed it, listen to our special edition of the agrifood podcast where EURACTIV’s agrifood team takes a closer look at knowledge sharing in the agricultural sector – why is this so important, what challenges do farmers face in exchanging information on innovative approaches, and what projects already exist to help them overcome these? 

News from the bubble

Seed oil warning. The war in Ukraine will have consequences on EU supplies of sunflower seed oil as the roughly 200,000 tonnes per month supply from Ukraine has stopped being shipped to European ports, warns the European vegetable oil association Fediol. Between 35 and 45% of sunflower oil refined in the EU comes from Ukraine and there is no immediate solution to the disruption in sunflower seed oil, as it is unclear if and how trade will be able to resume, continued the association.

Antibiotics – only for humans? The European Medicines Agency (EMA) issued scientific advice this week with recommendations for antimicrobials to be reserved for human use only. This declaration has been welcomed by a number of industry players, who are now calling on the European Commission to propose an implementing act following this approach.

Agri statistics: 79 organisations across Europe, including environmental and health associations, beekeepers associations and trade unions, wrote to the Commission and other ministers and key players to their concerns regarding the ongoing EU reform of agriculture statistics. Specifically, the letter sets out that organisations are concerned about the limited availability of data on the use of plant protection products and other toxic chemicals in agriculture. 

More letters: More than 70 environmental and campaign organisations have issued a joint statement on their concerns about the lack of ambition in the proposal on the sustainable use of plant protection products, due to be launched by the European Commission on 23 March, saying it is “high time for the Commission to introduce a proposal which will drive the transition towards agroecological food systems that protect biodiversity and human health”. 

AGRIFISH meeting: Agriculture ministers held an extraordinary meeting via videoconference this week to discuss the risk of significant pressures facing the agriculture and agri-food sectors in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. Following the meeting, the Commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski said the EU executive will consider the introduction of exceptional measures under the Common Market Organisation (CMO) regulation aimed at the sectors most affected by the rise in input costs. He recommended adopting measures aimed at securing and freeing up Europe’s production capacity in 2022, such as using fallow land for protein crops. These measures will be discussed by the upcoming Special Committee on Agriculture as well as at the next Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 21 March. Read more.

Forest strategy: On 28 February, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee held a public hearing on the new EU Forest Strategy for 2030 where MEPs assessed how to reconcile economic potentials of forestry with environmental targets. MEPs also adopted guidelines for the 2023 EU budget and an opinion to the International Trade Committee (INTA) on EU-India future trade and investment cooperation. 

Food safety news: The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has reassessed the feed additive ethoxyquin and could not conclude on its safety for certain groups of animals, consumers and the environment. Ethoxyquin was authorised in the EU as a feed additive for all animal species and categories until 2017, for its antioxidant properties. In addition, it is used to prevent spontaneous combustion of fish meal during transportation by sea.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

ALBANIA

Russia-Ukraine war: Bread could be off the menu in Albania. The price of wheat is set to rise in Albania due to sanctions imposed on Russia when reserves are already at a low. The country imports a majority of its wheat directly or indirectly from Russia. Wholesalers currently have enough wheat in reserves for 45 days, while government reserves are empty. Read the full story here.

ITALY

Italians fear the impact of war on their beloved staple foodstuffs. The war situation in Ukraine could have serious implications on Italy’s food production as it affects the production of bread and the liv, according to farmers’ association Coldiretti. In particular, the reduced trade in wheat can affect the production of bread and biscuits, while the scarce maize increases the costs of feeding livestock. According to the association, Italy is obliged to import agricultural raw materials and maize in particular because of the low remuneration paid to farmers, who have been forced to reduce national maize production by almost 1/3 in the last 10 years and maize can affect the production of bread and animal feed. For the same reason, one field of wheat out of five has also disappeared, with the loss of almost half a million hectares under cultivation.

GERMANY

German supermarkets accused of profiting from exploitation. German supermarket chains profit from “extremely low wages” and “catastrophic” working conditions further down the value chain, a new report released by Oxfam on Tuesday (1 March) claims. According to the organisation, some of the pineapples and grapes sold in Germany come from plantations in Costa Rica and Southafrica where workers are paid below minimum wage and frequently have to work more than twelve hours a day. Oxfam also cites workers who said they were exposed to toxic pesticides without adequate protection and did not have access to toilets or water on-site. Some also reported sexual assault by superiors. “Based on their market power, supermarket chains put massive pressure on suppliers and producers: Only products that are cheap to buy make it to the supermarket shelves,” Oxfam’s Tim Zahn said. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)

AUSTRIA

Austria launches “fairness office” for farmers suffering unfair trading practices. Farmers who experience unfair business practices can now turn to the “fairness office” anonymously for “fast and free support,” agri minister Elisabeth Köstinger said. Some of the most common practices classed as “unfair” that farmers experience when selling their produce include unilateral changes to the conditions of sale or short-notice cancellations for perishable goods. “Large retailers increasingly put pressure on our family farms,” Köstinger said, adding the new office can help those affected by giving legal advice or putting them in contact with an arbitrator. The move comes after national legislation to implement the EU’s directive on unfair trading practices had come into force at the beginning of the year. While Austria thus missed the mid-2021 deadline for transposing the directive, its national legislation goes beyond the EU’s minimum requirements in terms of protecting producers. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)

GREECE

Greek minister promises help in the face of high production costs. Due to external factors and especially the energy crisis, production costs have increased, the country’s food and rural development minister Georgios Georgantas said speaking to parliament. To tackle the problem, he promised to announce details on a possible refund of excise duty on petrol during the coming days. “We will bring clarification in relation to the 7% announced for animal feed,” he added. Georgantas also said he would consider continued support for the agricultural sector in the face of rising electricity prices. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

CROATIA

Financial help for Croatian farmers, fishermen to cope with energy price hikes. A 4.8 billion kuna (€ 640 million) support package drawn up by the Croatian government to buffer energy price hikes includes 200 million kuna (€ 26 million) for farmers and 50 million kuna (€ 6,6 million) for fishermen. The measures are expected to cover 88,000 family farms and 2,000 fishermen and fisheries. They also envisage aid for the procurement of artificial fertiliser. This set of measures is one of the most comprehensive in the EU, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said at their unveiling on Wednesday, adding that it will effectively and significantly mitigate the growth of prices of gas, electricity, food and other necessities. The set “will also contribute, for the third time in our term, to job keeping and purchasing power,” Plenković said. What is especially important, given that we expect a rise in last year’s GDP, is that this set of measures must contribute to the continuation of that trend – strong economic recovery and the competitiveness of the Croatian economy, agriculture and fisheries, he added. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr)

ROMANIA

Romania submits CAP strategic plan as second-to-last country. Two months after the deadline set by the European Commission, Romania submitted its CAP national strategic plan on Tuesday. However, the plan has been met with criticism for cutting young farmers’ support and forest protection funds. Get the full story here.

Events

7-10 March | European Parliament’s plenary in Strasbourg

7 March | EU Council’s Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting

8 March | Debate on the EU soil strategy for 2030 at the European Economic and Social Committee

10-11 March | Informal European Council meeting in Versailles

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