Agrifood Brief: Two birds, one score

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28 - AGRI Committee chair, CAP update, halloumi cheese

 

We speak with the chair of the European Parliament’s AGRI committee, Norbert Lins, about the progress that has been made so far on the CAP reform, and we give a rundown of the top 10 agri-news stories this week, including why halloumi cheese has been hitting the headlines. 

 

Could the colour-coded Nutri-Score get the proverbial helping hand from its “environmental” counterpart in its bid to become the new EU-wide front-of-pack label?

The fight for establishing a harmonised food labelling scheme has been full of twists and turns so far.

Just when you think the Commission leaning more toward the French candidate Nutri-Score, an EU official publicly denounces it saying there is “an ideological fallacy in describing the Nutri-Score as a panacea.”

Meanwhile, this week MEPs in the European Parliament’s Internal Market Committee voted on an advisory opinion to the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, on shielding quality foodstuff protected as geographical indications (GIs) from whichever nutritional labelling framework comes out on top.

This move was intended to protect the culinary excellence of Mediterranean countries, which feel their products under attack from Nutri-Score.

The competing camps are clear: it’s France vs. Italy, the Nutri-Score promoters vs. Mediterranean ‘front”.

But nutritional aspects are not the only ones to be considered by the Commission in outlining its final proposal.

“The Commission will also examine ways to harmonise voluntary green claims and to create a sustainable labelling framework that covers, in synergy with other relevant initiatives, the nutritional, climate, environmental and social aspects of food products,” reads the text of F2F.

In novels, there are some secondary characters, normally referred to as ‘helpers’, whose role is to move the story along by lending a helping hand to the protagonists.

And here comes the Eco-Score.

Like its name already suggests, Eco-Score is exactly like Nutri-Score, but deals instead with the environmental impact of food.

Developed by the environmental consultancy ECO2 Initiative, this new label aims to showcase the environmental impact of the food we find in supermarket aisles in a simple way.

Like the Nutri-Score, it converts the life cycle assessment of food products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own colour.

The system’s algorithm also offers a bonus to products with relevant certification, such as organic or fair-trade, as well as the use of recycled materials for the packaging.

Eco-Score is gaining momentum and recently was adopted outside France by the Belgian retailer Colruyt and Lidl Belgium.

So far, the main competitive edge of Nutri-Score is that it has been tested on the ground, although it has not been enough to win the hearts of lawmakers.

However, system that could be used for checking both nutritional and environmental aspects could be a game-changer in the labelling race, given that consumers would not have to “learn” another alphabet, but use the same familiar 5 lettered system.

Could the uptake of something like Eco-Store help win the Nutri-score the green light from the Commission?

We contacted Serge Hercberg, a professor of nutrition at the University of Paris, who is considered the father of Nutri-Score and seemed quite open to the general idea of the Eco-Score.

“It would be interesting to provide consumers with NutriScore, a specific label indicating if the food is ultra-processed (NOVA4), an organic label and even the Eco-Score,” he said.

He added that under no circumstance could the Nutri-Score itself be amended to carry environmental information as well as nutritional.

Summing up these dimensions in a single and reliable indicator would be the dream of any public health actor, but unfortunately this is not scientifically realistic, he explained.

“So we have to give both [kinds of] information in a separate way as it could be done with Nutri-Score and an environmental label such Eco-Score,” he said.

Far less enthusiatic voices come from the stakeholder group, No-Nutriscore alliance, which, as the name suggests, advocate against the French label scheme.

“A system similar to Nutri-Score for environmental aspects would create more confusion and would be equally misleading as it would be intended not to inform consumers but to tell them what to buy,” a spokesperson of the alliance told EURACTIV

The EU consumers organisation BEUC said they have not had yet the opportunity to discuss the Eco-Score with their members because it is still relatively new and not yet present in many EU countries.

However, in their food survey from last year, they found that 57% of EU consumers want sustainability information to become mandatory on food labels.

The survey also found that a lack of clear labelling was identified as one of the main barriers to sustainable eating, alongside price, lack of knowledge and lack of availability of sustainable food choices.

(G.F.)

Agrifood news this week

End of the halloumi protection saga brings prospects of peace in Cyprus
The importance of the freshly awarded EU protection for halloumi cheese goes beyond its food implication: key political actors have seen it as a historic opportunity to enhance economic cooperation and bring the two national communities in Cyprus closer. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

Report: majority of consumers want compulsory labelling on all genetically modified food
A majority of European consumers want to see compulsory labelling on food products containing genetically modified crops, according to a recent Ipsos report, but industry players insist that this is impossible to implement. Natasha Foote has more.

ECJ confirms electric fishing ban, says science cannot justify all
Europe’s highest court has dismissed the latest Dutch attempt to halt the ban on the controversial practice of pulse trawling, in a ruling that put boundaries to the science-oriented approach of EU lawmaking. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

European Commission open to consider cage rearing ban initiative
Three members of the European Commission have reacted positively to a public petition requesting the phase-out of cage rearing in the EU, expressing support to the initiative. Read more.

Support for banning intensive farming grows despite cost of animal welfare
As a survey conducted by the L214 association published this week points to the suffering of animals in intensive farming, the ‘End the Cage Age’ initiative put forward by EU citizens is demanding to end the practice of caging animals. EURACTIV France reports.

Pesticide with EU-banned substance still widely used in Bulgarian agriculture
EURACTIV Bulgaria’s investigative journalist Valia Ahchieva depicts in her latest production on YouTube a sad reality: a plant protection product called Mocap containing an EU-banned active ingredient is not only being used but also subsidised by Bulgaria’s ministry of agriculture. EURACTIV Bulgaria has more.

In case you missed it: 

Nutri-Score food labelling plan is not panacea, EU official says
The proposed colour-coded Nutri-Score labelling system should not be seen as a panacea for consumers to assess the healthiness of food, according to a member of the cabinet of EU’s agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

French farmers protest to give ‘first warning to government’
As farmers’ protests calling for a fair income increase across France, farmers will protest on the streets of Île-de-France Friday (2 April) to denounce the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). EURACTIV France reports.

MEP: Labelling of gene-edited foodstuffs is impossible
Labelling foodstuffs as gene-edited products is simply not possible as the genetic improvements brought about by the new breeding technologies (NBTs) are not identifiable, according to the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann. Read more.

News from the bubble

CAP corner: The end of CAP reform negotiations is “in sight”, according to Peter Jahr, rapporteur on the CAP strategic plans, speaking during a debate on the state of play of the trilogy negotiations this week. Describing negotiations on certain aspects as a “bullfight”, but said he thinks negotiators are “very close to attaining a result”.

Positive indications: One area where there has been considerable movement is on the number of indicators which contribute to the assessment of CAP performance. “We’ve said that will be 22. So this is a happy medium between the Council, who wanted 12, and the parliament, who wanted 46,” MEP Gilles Lebreton outlined. He added that given that certain indicators were fused, the Parliament did not make as big a sacrifice as might seem. As regards to performance examination, it has been decided that this will take place every two years.

Thorny issues remain: Despite the progress, some issues remain, one of which is the definition of what constitutes an active farmer. “We agreed that there needs to be one but we have yet to find it,” Lebreton said, adding that the Commission’s proposal “isn’t very satisfactory” although positions are close on the definition of young farmers. Negotiators are further apart on the issues of digressive payments, payment thresholds and their distribution, with the Parliament calling for all three aspects to be imposed, while the Council would like to see the imposition of only one of the three measures, leaving it to member state to decide. “So there the positions are very far removed from one another,” the MEP stated.

Support small-scale farms: Farmers’ organisations, environmental organisations, NGOs, unions, and researchers have sent a joint letter to the European Commission and CAP legislators underlining the key role of small and medium-sized farmers in the resolution of current social, environmental, and food-related crises, and demanding that EU policy in this pivotal moment must support and increase the number of small-scale farmers.

EFSA consultation launch: The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) is gathering the views of stakeholders in the early stages of our scientific assessment on the welfare of animals during transport in the EU. The assessment will support the European Commission’s current review of animal welfare legislation.

To keep an eye on: EFSA’s scientific evaluation of whether ten EU countries were justified in using banned neonicotinoid pesticides in 2020 will be finalised in September, according to Bernhard Url, EFSA’s executive director.

Legal framework for soil: With 73 votes in favour, 7 against and no abstentions, the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee adopted a resolution on Friday in which they call on the Commission to design an EU-wide common legal framework for the protection and sustainable use of soil, addressing different soil threats and promoting restoration measures. Contrary to water and air, currently there is no coherent and integrated EU legal framework for protecting Europe’s soil, MEPs say, with measures on soil protection fragmented among many policy instruments that lack coordination and which are often non-binding. Learn more about the importance of soil via EURACTIV’s agrifood podcast.

Live transport: MEPs in the Animal Transport Working Group have released a new manifesto, where they call for the reduction, refinement, and replacement of live animal transport.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

FRANCE
The French government has announced a new aid scheme for farmers after a “historical” drop in temperatures last week wreaked havoc on vines, fruit trees, rapeseed and beetroot cultures across the country. Qualifying the frost wave as the “greatest agronomical catastrophe of the century”, the minister of Agriculture Julien Denormandie vowed to activate the agricultural calamity fund. Further emergency measures will include tax relief and financial aid financed by national solidarity funding. (Magdalena PistoriusEURACTIV.fr)

POLAND
In in past 10 years, 13% of farms in Poland have disappeared, according to the 2020 Agricultural Census presented in early April. This means that from 2010 (the previous edition of the census) to 2020, 190,000 farms in Poland have ceased to exist. The number of farms currently totals around 1.3 million. (Mateusz Kucharczyk  | EURACTIV.pl)

ITALY

Local authorities and the Italian agriculture ministry have not yet agreed on the distribution of Italy’s allocation for EU rural development programme in 2021-22, Italy’s press L’informatore agrario reports. Roughly €7 billion of EU funds need to be divided into 22 tranches, one to be allocated to the Ministry and 21 to the local authorities that have to implement the rural development programme until 2022. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

UK 
The UK National Farmers Union (NFU) has warned a House of Lords Committee that the UK must maintain welfare and environmental standards in its attempt join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – a group consisting of 11 countries including Canada, New Zealand and Australia – and are pressing the British government to ensure that the farming industry was protected from lower standard imports. The union told the committee: “The NFU believes that any trade deal, which includes joining the CPTPP, should ensure that British farmers can continue to produce food to the current high standards. “Our farmers are proud of the food we produce and should not be undermined by imports produced to standards that would be illegal here.” (Natasha Foote| EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN
This week, Spanish agriculture minister Luis Planas held bilateral meetings with the regional ministers of Navarre and La Rioja on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In the meetings, he insisted on his commitment to reach an agreement with the autonomous regions on the strategic plan for applying the CAP in Spain. Bilateral meetings will continue throughout the month in order to prepare a joint sectoral conference in May which will define the application of the CAP for the period 2023-2027. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro reports.

GERMANY 
On Monday (12 April), Germany’s environment and agriculture ministries (BMU and BMEL) reached a compromise on the country’s plan to implement the EU’s CAP reform, which was then passed by the government cabinet on Tuesday (13 April). While it is largely in line with the agreement reached between Germany’s state agriculture ministers in March, there is a new rate of reallocation of funds from the CAP’s first pillar to the second as part of theEU’s plan to deliver on the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy. The rate will be 8% as of 2022, before increasing to 10% by 2023 and 15% by 2026. Other points of the compromise include maintaining the amount of direct payments for eco-schemes at 25%, after the BMU dropped its call for them to be raised to 30%. The German Farmers’ Association (DBV) condemned the cabinet agreement, saying it “means painful cuts for German farmers in EU agricultural subsidies anyway,” while Olaf Bandt, the chair of the environmental association BUND, said that it went “in the right direction, [but nevertheless is] insufficient in view of the enormous challenges in climate, animal and nature protection.” (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

AUSTRIA
The Austrian Independent Farmers’ Association (UBV) wants to see the end of price dumping and is advocating new laws to ensure fair prices. In addition to ending the low price campaigns in the country’s supermarkets, the group wants to see that imported goods have the same production guidelines as domestically produced ones and what they call “genuine origin labelling.” On this latter point, the UBV laments that “the farmer federation has talked about this for 25 years, but nothing came of it.” (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

Events

14 April-11 May – Under the banner of “European Legumes in Transition”, a series of 8 webinars will start on 14th April 2021 exploring the opportunities and benefits of an increased legume production and consumption in Europe.

19-22 April -There is the Global Symposium on Soil Biodiversity, jointly organised by the UN FAO and its Global Soil Partnership (GSP).

21 April – There is a EURACTIV Virtual Conference on how the EU can reduce the use of antibiotics in its meat sector, and avoid a global health crisis caused by antimicrobial resistance.

21 April – SILVER SMEs will hold its mid-term conference on “Challenges and solutions to cope with ageing in rural Europe: the role of the Silver Economy”. The project aims to support regional policies in rural and mountainous areas by highlighting the potential for SMEs to develop innovative products and services for a senior population and for growth and competitiveness in rural regions.

22 April – There is an AGRI Committee meeting, which will include talks on the state of play in relation to the revision of the geographical indications systems, and a presentation by Commission representatives (DG AGRI and JRC) on the report “Farmers of the Future”. See here for more details.

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