Agrifood brief: The art of counting chickens

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35 - Sausage (and other meats) scandal, cage-free EU

This week: We spoke with EURACTIV’s very own Ben Fox about the so-called “sausage war” between the EU and the UK which has hit headlines this week, and with Green MEP Francisco Guerreiro to hear his reaction to the news that the European Parliament voted for a resolution to ban cages for farmed animals in the EU, marking a first step towards a ban by 2027

 

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” proverbial wisdom tells us. German agricultural minister Julia Klöckner, however, would probably disagree.

With federal elections looming this autumn, Klöckner is determined to pass the national legislation to implement the EU’s reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) before Berlin politics goes into the summer break.

This week, she is coming close to the finish line: On Thursday evening (10 June), the German parliament, the Bundestag, approved the four legislative proposals that determine how the CAP money will be distributed within Germany.

However, the challenge for Klöckner and the German CAP laws is that it is not yet clear what exactly they are supposed to be implementing.

With last month’s so-called jumbo trilogue, the Portuguese EU Council presidency intended to break through the shell and reach an agreement on CAP reform.

But while some cracks were definitely showing, the European Parliament and the Council could not agree on reform plans.

But even though the European CAP reform chickens are not yet hatched, Klöckner is determined to finalise the German legislation and she has little time to lose as the federal election is due on 26 September.

Parliament, Council and Commission negotiators are set to reconvene later this month (24 – 25 June) but German parliamentarians are already leaving for summer holidays that Friday, and there is no further Bundestag session planned until the elections.

For Klöckner, waiting for the next trilogue outcome would thus have meant leaving the legislation to her successor, and that’s why she’s not standing still.

“The aim is to conclude the legislative process before the federal elections, in order to prevent the legislation from falling under the discontinuity principle,” an official from the German agricultural ministry told EURACTIV.

“This is the only way to ensure that the national CAP strategy plan can be presented in time,” the official added.

According to the discontinuity principle, any legislative process that is not finalised before a federal election has to be started afresh by the newly elected government.

The deadline for EU member states to present their National Strategy Plans for the implementation of the CAP to the Commission is early January 2022, around three months after the elections.

In any case, Klöckner seems convinced that pressing ahead with the national legislation does not pose any chicken-and-egg problems.

In fact, the governing parties claim to have found a trick to avoid any complications that could arise from the scrambled timeline.

“Due to the parallelity of the national legislative process and the trilogue negotiations, we have designed our legislation in such a way that the results of the trilogue can, if necessary, still be included, for example via executive regulations,” the ministry official told EURACTIV.

“This way, readjustments are possible.”

The agricultural ministry will thus be able to directly implement new points arising from the upcoming trilogue negotiations.

“This means that we will not need another legislative process anymore,” Rainer Spiering, parliamentary spokesman on agricultural policy for the Social Democrats, the junior partner in government, told EURACTIV.

“The advantage of this is that, despite the federal elections, the ministry will be able to quickly react to the different possibilities of what might be decided in Brussels and adapt accordingly,” he explained.

However, others are not so sure that Klöckner has all of her chickens in a row.

“By adopting legislation here in Germany while the legislative framework is not set on the EU level, the federal government is restricting its own scope of action,” Gero Hocker, agricultural spokesman in parliament for the liberal party (FDP), told EURACTIV.

Friedrich Ostendorff from the Greens said during the parliamentary debate on Thursday that it was “very disappointing for all of us, especially after we painstakingly reached a compromise between all the federal provinces, that minister Klöckner obstructs progress in Brussels and does not fight for our compromise there”.

Criticism also comes from various stakeholders.

“The regulations for the national implementation of the CAP fail not only when it comes to climate and environmental protection, but they are also built on shaky ground in terms of EU law as so far, the EU-level framework is not fixed,” Julian Bethke from NABU, an environmental German environmental NGO, told EURACTIV.

For the German Farmers Association, “the current proposals are not ready to be decided on yet, as the results from the trilogue are still missing”.

After this week’s Bundestag vote, the only thing missing for the legislation to pass is the approval of the Bundesrat, Germany’s second parliamentary chamber made up of the regional governments.

The body is expected to vote on the issue during its last meeting before the summer break on 25 June. As the legislative proposals are based on an agreement between Klöckner and the 16 regional agricultural ministers, they are expected to pass the Bundesrat.

In the end, the plan that Klöckner has hatched might well work out.

(J.D.)

Stories of the week

Greece’s agri minister: Parliament’s CAP negotiation tactics ‘lacked democracy’
EU-27 agricultural ministers were faced with a “totally unacceptable” method of negotiation from the European Parliament during talks on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which lacked democracy, Greece’s agriculture minister Spilios Livanos told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview

Portuguese minister: We have one ocean, we need to look after it globally
International cooperation to tackle global challenges facing marine resources is strongly needed as problems such as ocean warming cannot be solved by just a few countries, Portuguese Minister of Maritime Affairs Ricardo Serrão Santos told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview where he also highlighted the importance of aquaculture in the blue economy concept

Ireland split over giving farmers equal share of CAP payments
In Ireland, a storm is brewing over the need to give all farmers an equal slice of EU payments. The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) argues that this risks more farms becoming unviable, while proponents say it is needed to level the playing field for small farms. Natasha Foote has the story

MEPs overwhelmingly vote to ban cages for farmed animals
The European Parliament urged the European Commission to make cages for farmed animals a thing of the past in a resolution adopted on Thursday (10 June), marking a first step towards a ban on cages by 2027. Natasha Foote brings you more

Gut instinct: Innovative feedstuffs hold huge potential for boosting microbiome
The potential of innovative feed solutions for boosting gut microbiome health of animals remains underexplored, despite mounting scientific evidence indicating that it underpins both animal health and welfare, stakeholders have highlighted

Germany’s pre-UN food summit talks criticised for ignoring ‘most marginalised’
In the run-up to the UN Food Systems Summit in September, Germany’s agriculture ministry launched its preparatory process at a conference this week where politicians, agriculture and health experts exchanged their views on future food production. But the dialogue was criticised for missing the voices of marginalised people. EURACTIV Germany reports

Black Sea facing ecological disaster due to overfishing
Fish stocks in the Black Sea are dwindling and commercial fishing is causing more and more environmental damage, causing concern that has grabbed the attention of NGOs and EU lawmakers. EURACTIV Bulgaria reports

CAP corner

SCA meeting: Delegations considered a new proposal put forward by the presidency on the strategic plans regulation this week, which covered areas including: ring-fencing for environmental objectives; GAECs 4,7,8 and 9; targeting of support; internal convergence; the social dimension; coupled support; and the Green Deal. An EU source told EURACTIV that overall they responded positively to the presidency’s proposal and felt that progress had been made in many areas ready for further discussion in a super trilogue on 24-25 June which, depending on the progress made, may just be on 25 June

Young farmers have their say: The EU young farmer’s association CEJA released a new position paper this week, where they called on EU decision-makers to consider the creation of simplified subsidised instruments within the CAP and that anticipating crises by better adapting supply to demand should be a “primary objective”

News from the bubble

Tariff wars: Ahead of next week’s EU-US summit in Brussels, 113 organisations, including many in the agrifood sector, have called for the permanent removal of tariffs on sectors unrelated to the ongoing transatlantic trade disputes. “The transatlantic relationship is of enormous economic importance to our sectors, and we are eager to see it protected and nurtured,” signatories said in a statement, adding that they hoped that both sides can “build on this positive momentum to secure the permanent removal of retaliatory tariffs on our products”

Fishy business: The EU has signed the first ever annual agreement on fishing with the UK. Based on the best available scientific advice on the state of fish stocks, it secures the fishing rights of the EU and UK fishing fleets in both the EU and UK waters until the end of 2021

Joe gives his green light: US President Joe Biden reportedly told UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that signing temporary veterinary agreement with EU to reduce customs checks won’t “imperil” prospects of UK-US trade deal, as previously suggested by the British government, something the Irish government said it was “very pleased” about, according to Irish broadcaster RTE

Marketing standards: The Commission launched a public consultation on EU marketing standards for agricultural products this week, part of the Commission’s plans to review the legislation in line with its sustainability objectives, according to EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.

African swine fever: EFSA has released a new opinion assessing the risk of African swine fewer (ASF) introduction and spread associated with outdoor pig farms and proposing biosecurity and control measures for outdoor pig farms in ASF-affected areas of the EU

News from the Capitals

BULGARIA
The Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA) was embroiled in a scandal this week. All cars entering the country from Turkey are required to undergo disinfection to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases from third countries, such as African swine fever. While the BFSA is responsible for this, it is organised by a private company, who takes a 20% cut. On Saturday, a surprise inspection by the tax authorities showed that half of the private company’s cash registers were not connected to the central system of the tax agency, meaning more than €5 million has not been paid into the budget. The private company promised to deposit all the money it did not pay to the budget (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

SPAIN
The ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food (MAPA) has allocated €17.18 million from the national reserve of the basic payment scheme 2020 for 3,272 farmers, after the Spanish agrarian guarantee fund (FEGA) approved a complementary resolution for an amount of €4.7 million. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro reports

GERMANY 
Plans for a German animal welfare label fall through. Since 2018, conservative agricultural minister Julia Klöckner has been pressing for the introduction of a national animal welfare label. Her proposals foresee a labeling system that food producers could participate in on a voluntary basis. This week, however, the Social Democrats, the junior partner in government, have made clear that they are not willing to back Klöckner’s plans in a parliamentary vote. The party’s parliamentary spokesperson for animal welfare, Susanne Mittag, said there was no chance that the proposals could still go through before the summer break. “First, we would need to know the scope of the label and what it would cover exactly,” she told German public TV channel ARD on Thursday (10 June). Mittag also said the label should be obligatory instead of voluntary. (Julia Dahm |EURACTIV.de)

IRELAND
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA( is holding a nationwide ‘Day of Action’  across 30 towns this Friday to highlight the importance of commercial farming to the rural economy. “In particular, we are concerned about the direction of EU CAP reform and unfair aspects of the proposed Climate Bill,” the association said. You can follow updates from the protest here (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

ITALY
From 9 June to 7 September, young Italian farmers can file their expression of interest for the purchase of 624 potential farms totalling 16,000 hectares. The initiative, the “National Farmland Bank”, has been managed by Italy’s Institute of Services for the Agricultural and Food Market (ISMEA) since 2016 to facilitate the generational turnover in agriculture. Farmers under the age of 41 are allowed to pay the price of the land in six-monthly or annual instalments for a maximum period of 30 years through a simplified procedure that guarantees transparency. Farms are located mainly in the southern regions, as Sicily, Basilicata and Apulia alone cover more than half of the available lands, although the Tuscany region also accounts for 17% of the total amount. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

UK 
The UK will become the first European country to end live exports as the government sets out new powers to boost animal welfare this week, according to Farming UK. The new bill seeks to improve welfare standards through a wide range of measures, including new powers to clamp down on livestock worrying and a live export ban. The department of environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA) said live exports “caused farm animals to experience ‘distress and injury’ due to ‘excessively long journeys during export”. (Natasha Foote |  EURACTIV.com)

NETHERLANDS
The Dutch minister responsible for fisheries, Carola Schouten, has stated publicly that she is in favour of installing cameras on all fishing vessels at risk of illegal practices, rather than just those above a certain length. Under the revised EU Fisheries Control Regulation, vessels will likely be identified as ‘at risk’ based on estimates of illegal discards, using criteria such as target species and fishing practice, which includes types of trawling. In answer to a parliamentary question Schouten said she was in favour of “a level playing field for all fleet segments” and that she felt there was “no difference in the risk of non-compliance with the landing obligation between vessels larger and smaller than 24 metres.” The Netherlands is the first EU member state to publicly announce this position, indicating it will push for this conclusion when the future of the EU Fisheries Control Regulation is decided at the end of June. (Natasha Foote |  EURACTIV.com)

FRANCE
French platform Pour une autre PAC (“For another CAP”) has launched a “CAP-o-meter” this week. The online tool (“PAComètre” in French) is supposed to help analyse the arbitrages on the implementation of the future CAP in France that were announced by Julien Denormandie, minister of Agriculture, in May. The CAP-o-meter gives a mediocre rating of Denormandie’s choices, criticising the fact that the National Strategic Plan (NSP) as presented by the minister will not grant enough support for the agroecological transition, saying it “could go further” (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

ESTONIA
Estonia, previously a big fur producing country, has ruled to ban fur farming nationwide, according to the Environmental Media Association. Beginning July 2021, no fur farms will be allowed to open in the country and, 5 years from now, all fur farms across the country must be completely shut down. (Natasha Foote |  EURACTIV.com)

Events

14, 15, 16 June – There are a number of AGRI Committee meetings, including a debate on the CAP reform package and a hearing on artificial intelligence in agriculture and food security

15 June –  There is an event “Supporting the Development of Organic Action Plans in the BIOEAST countries” in the 11 BIOEAST countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania). More information here

16 June – There is an informal meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers in Portugal

16 June – The PETI and AGRI Committees of the European Parliament will organise a joint hearing on how to treat farmers in a fair and equal manner across the EU. See here for details

16-18 June – The annual European Organic Congress will be held online, with the theme ‘organic’s contribution to the European Green Deal’
17 June – In the context of the mobilisation of thousands of farmers in Lisbon on 14 June, the European Coordination Via Campesina is inviting journalists at European and national levels to participate in a press conference to better understand the position of small-scale farmers ahead of the upcoming crucial CAP reform negotiations in late June

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