Agrifood Brief: The agri-side of Europe’s man on the moon moment

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.


Once again, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has come under fire for having apparently forgotten farming in her maiden State of the Union speech and, in doing so, neglecting a key player in the Commission’s vision for a greener future.

Agriculture warranted only one passing mention in von der Leyen’s hour-and-a-half speech on Wednesday (16 September).

The Commission chief already caught flak for not mentioning the farming sector in her first address to the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg in July last year.

With the focus of her speech on the willingness to scale up the EU’s ambition for reaching the climate neutrality by 2050, von der Leyen placed a new emphasis on the Green Deal architecture, which she herself once labelled as Europe’s man on the moon moment.

This included proposing an increase in the 2030 target for emission reduction from 40% to 55% and vowing that all climate and energy legislation will be revised to make it fit for the new target.

But agriculture’s role in the EU’s green equation is often overshadowed by other environmental aspects, leaving farming on the dark side of the moon.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), the agriculture sector produced around 10% of the EU’s total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, with 426,473 kilotonnes of CO2 equivalent produced in 2015.

“Carbon must have its price because nature cannot pay this price anymore,” von der Leyen stressed in her speech.

To make this happen, the new Climate Law indicates that farmers and foresters must be “incentivised” to store more carbon on their land, including via a “robust carbon removal certification scheme.”

But Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca, has previously warned that this drive for carbon neutrality needs “sustainable financing in parallel with constant innovation of production tools and methods.”

This is something that Asger Christensen, the liberal MEP who was the rapporteur on the opinion on the Climate Law in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (COMAGRI), believes can be supported via the establishment of a separate trading scheme for negative emissions.

“In order to stimulate the development of removals, the Commission should explore the possible separate trading of removals or negative emissions on EU and global carbon markets,” he said, adding that such trading of negative emissions might generate substantial climate finance.

In this way, farmers could be offered carbon credits in return for sequestering carbon, for example via tree growth or soil health improvements, which can then be sold to buyers as voluntary offsets for their emissions.

Carbon credit schemes are also garnering their fair share of attention in research.

Most recently, the Grantham research centre experts published a new study which suggests the UK and Europe should radically rethink sheep farming.

The research concludes that sheep farmers would not need government subsidies if they let native trees spread over part of their land instead of using it entirely for sheep pasture, and then sell credits for the carbon dioxide the new forests would absorb.

As everyone has heard at least once, agriculture is part of the problem but can offer solutions too.

(N.F and G.F.)

Agrifood news this week

Every drop counts: Exploring innovative solutions for Europe’s drought problem
A third consecutive year of drought shows that water scarcity is an increasingly frequent and widespread phenomenon in the EU, and one which holds enormous implications for the agricultural sector. EURACTIV spoke with Netafim, a specialist irrigation company, about the innovative solutions on offer to cope with this.

MEPs want Commission to enter the veggie burger fray
European Parliament lawmakers are considering asking the European Commission to step in and help nix any doubts about the terminology used for plant-based meat substitutes, which are gaining in popularity across the EU. Gerardo Fortuna reports.

Germany well prepared to deal with African swine fever case, says farmers association
German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner confirmed a case of African Swine Fever (ASF) in a wild boar in Germany on Thursday (10 September), but the EU farmers association was quick to stress the country is well prepared to respond to the issue. Natasha Foote has the story.

France unlocks €100 million to develop its plant-based protein production
The French government intends to allocate €100 million to develop the country’s plant-based protein production. The decision, however, is based on commercial rather than environmental concerns. EURACTIV France reports.


“Our current levels of consumption of raw materials, energy, water, food and land use are not sustainable. We need to change how we treat nature, how we produce and consume, live and work, eat and heat, travel and transport”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her first ‘State of the Union’ speech.


News from the bubble

Climate Law: In an amendment to the proposed European Climate Law, the Commission highlighted that “individual farmers or forest managers need to be directly incentivized to store more carbon on their land and their forests.” The communication presented on Thursday (17 September) also calls on member states to deploy carbon farming and certification of carbon removals in the run-up to 2030.

EU-China trade: The European Union and China signed a bilateral agreement that will protect 100 European Geographical Indications (GIs) in China and 100 Chinese GIs in the European Union against usurpation and imitation.

Compensation for farmers: The Dutch and Danish agriculture sherpas have filed a proposal to compensate in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) those farmers who implement the directive on nitrates, sustainable use of pesticides and reduction of national emissions.

PFAS in food: On Thursday (17 September), the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) published its final opinion on the risks to human health for the presence of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in food. PFAS are synthetic chemicals used in a wide variety of industrial and consumer products. EFSA has set a new safety threshold for main PFAS that accumulate in the body.

An updated version of a map of the key players in DG AGRI was published this week – you can find it here. 

Agrifood news from the Capitals

The president of the Irish farmers association has expressed his disappointment at the lack of support European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen showed Irish citizens and farmers in her maiden State of the Union speech, saying that her comments about Brexit were “chilling” for Irish farmers. Natasha Foote reports. (

The Ministries of Ecological Transition, Economy and Finance, and Agriculture, together with the Ademe (Ecological Transition Agency), launched a call on Thursday (10 September) for applications to develop a label that will inform consumers about the environmental impact of food. This experiment is part of “the framework of the law on the fight against waste and the circular economy”. It is aimed at food producers, distributors, contract caterers, but also at players in the digital sector, research and the voluntary sector. This experiment is due to end in the autumn of 2021. (Anne Damiani

Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister Edwin Poots has said the UK government will be paying for work to expand post-Brexit control points at local ports, which are currently used for checks on agri-food products and animals. Carrying out the work on the facilities is seen as a crucial part of the preparations for the regulatory checks required in the UK and the EU’s controversial Brexit protocol. (Natasha Foote |

Belgium’s increased use of pesticides and mechanical plowing in agriculture has caused over 60% of birdlife to disappear in the last 30 years, according to a new report by the World Wildlife Federation (WWF). (Natasha Foote |

The lower house of the Parliament of the Czech Republic has banned cages for laying hens from 2027, and also outlined a commitment of Czech policy-makers to push for an EU-level ban. The new ban will cover cages for both laying hens and laying breeders. (Natasha Foote |

On our radar

On Friday (17 September), the European farmers’ association COPA-COGECA will renew its highest positions, electing the president and 6 vice-presidents.

On Monday (21 September), there is an EU AGRIFISH Council to discuss some elements of the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and trade-related issues in the agricultural sector. The meeting will be livestreamed. See here for more information 

An ‘any other business’ request , due to be discussed at the AGRIFISH council, has been proposed by the Ministers of Agriculture of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain on the need to develop plant proteins in European agriculture.

Upcoming events

21 September- The 3rd International Bioeconomy Congress will take place, involving discussions on how innovative solutions can contribute to mitigating climate change, reducing pollution and other Sustainable Development Goals. More details here.

23 September – An online event with Wolfgang Burtscher, director general of DG Agriculture and Rural Development, will take place as part of a series of discussions entitled ‘Talking Europe’. More information here. 

24 September- There is a webinar on crop protection and studies on the future of agriculture in Europe, bringing together European researchers working on crop health and protection. For more information, see here.

24 September – There is POLITICO’s Agriculture and Food Summit 2020, where they will explore the new political reforms and innovative technologies that have the potential to shape Europe’s agricultural and food industry into a greener, more innovative as well as globally competitive sector. See here for details. 

Don’t miss

Euractiv’s upcoming event report exploring sustainability in the livestock sector – what does sustainability in the sector should look like in the EU and how can this be achieved.


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