Agrifood Brief: What did EU put in my glass?

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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.

Please note that this will be the last EURACTIV agrifood brief before the summer break! We hope that you all have a great summer and we look forward to bringing you more agrifood news in September

Poor reporting on the reform of the European’s farming subsidy framework led Italians to worry unnecessarily about how much water the EU will be putting in their cherished national wines.

If you happened to watch the football Euros this summer, you may have noticed that the prize for the most valuable player (MVP) after each match was sponsored by the alcohol-free product of a world-famous beer brand.

The choice of promoting a non-alcoholic beer in such a big event shows how much consumer demand for drinks with a lower alcoholic strength has been increasing in recent years.

The annual production volume of non-alcoholic beer in Germany rose from roughly 200 million litres in 2005 to more than 400 million litres in 2020, according to Statista, a company specialised in market and consumer data.

The alcohol-free segment is becoming an important market opportunity as well for the wine sector, which has not yet developed many products of this kind.

When presenting its reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2018, the Commission proposed the possibility that certain European wine specialities – protected with the PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) – could be totally or partially de-alcoholised.

“Our motivation was to create new business opportunities for our wine producers because there is a growing market for such wines, partly motivated by health nutrition concerns, but also driving requirements,” the deputy director-general of the Commission’s DG AGRI, Michael Scannell, told EURACTIV in a recent press conference.

Thoughts might turn also to the penetration in markets where alcohol consumption is forbidden on religious grounds, although we do not have to go that far: another poll by Statista says that nearly 20% of Dutch respondents between the ages of 25-39 drank alcohol-free wine sometimes in 2018.

However, the proposal in the CAP reform brewed up trouble in the member state that accounts for one-third of the total PDO-PGI wines registered in the EU’s database e-Ambrosia – 526 out of 1610 wines protected in the bloc.

Once the proposal started bouncing on the mainstream media outlets, anger in Italy bubbled over.

Believe it or not, most people understood that the EU was somehow planning to partially or completely remove alcohol by adding water to their beloved wines.

It all started with press releases from farmers organisation Colideretti that were entirely transposed – and misinterpreted by readers – in a one-sided article that appeared in the country’s leading economic newspaper.

I realised the issue had snowballed since the publication of that article when I was contacted by the Italian public service broadcast to explain in a radio show what was happening and reassure listeners about something that never happened.

Of course, anti-EU parties jumped on the wagon of the de-alcoholised wine debate to dig up dirt on the bloc and sensationalise the topic even further.

It didn’t help that it was accompanied by a reference to a popular folk song in Roman dialect which says that if the innkeeper pours water into wine, customers will sing to him ‘you put the water in, we are not going to pay you out’.

It left specialised journalists fighting a piece of fake news created and spread by the same mainstream press.

In May, a group of MEPs, led by no less than former European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, asked the Commission in a parliamentary question whether de-alcoholised beverages, since they are different from wine, should be renamed so that consumers are not misled.

The Commission replied by saying that the decision rests with the EU lawmakers – the European Parliament and the Council – specifying that in the interinstitutional discussions, they agreed to consider de-alcoholised and partially de-alcoholised wines as wine products but that they required specific labelling for such products.

But again, in answering MEPs questions, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski had to reassure Italians that not only did the CAP provisional agreement not allow the addition of water during the de-alcoholisation process, but even the original proposal did not include any reference to water addition.

“We’re very mindful of ensuring that we don’t damage the reputation of our wines,” said the Commission’s Scannell, adding that there would be very strict conditions applying to the technical requirements governing such wines.

The Commission will also set down conditions to apply to those wines in the future through secondary legislation, such as implementing and delegated acts.

“Essentially, we’re getting, very carefully, the balance right between creating a new business opportunity without compromising the excellent reputation and interests of existing producers,” said Scannell.

The risk of inaction here is to allow companies that had nothing to do with wines enter a promising market, while traditional wine producers risk being marginalised for not having joined the race, which would certainly be something for the sector to w(h)ine about.

Stories of the week

EU implements first animal welfare-based condition in trade agreement
In an unprecedented move, the EU has included the first animal welfare-based condition in the Mercosur trade agreement, but stakeholders warned that this does not go far enough to save the controversial deal that is facing increasing opposition in Europe. Natasha Foote has the story.

Animal feed spike worries EU countries
High feed costs are giving member states a cause for concern, while the European Commission is hopeful that feed prices are likely to go down in the near future. Gerardo Fortuna has the details.

Commission moves against EU countries over unfair trading practices
The European Commission on Tuesday (27 July) opened infringement procedures against 12 member states after they failed to transpose EU rules banning unfair trading practices in the agri-food sector within the allotted time frame. Natasha Foote has more.

Crying fowl: Ministers call for EU-wide minimum standards for turkey farming
EU agriculture ministers have called for the creation of EU-wide minimum standards for turkey farming, which, despite being the third most slaughtered animal, still lack specific legal regulations for their husbandry. Natasha Foote has the story.

French egg industry backs chick culling ban, calls for EU-wide extension
After French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie announced a ban on the crushing of male chicks, questions arose as to how feasible such a move would be, particularly regarding the cost and adopted technique. EURACTIV France reports.

Experts: Deadly floods made worse by misguided farming practices
German environmental organisations are calling for flood protection measures to be improved and for a change to the way agricultural soils are used weeks after catastrophic flash floods deluged the country and left more than 200 dead across Western Europe. EURACTIV Germany reports.

CAP corner

CAP tracker: EURACTIV has published a new CAP tracker, where we will be following all the developments on member states’ national strategic plans over the course of the next year. Check it out here.

Factsheet fun: The Commission has released a new factsheet A greener and a fairer CAP’ which focuses on the key themes which have been the driving forces behind the political agreement on the CAP.

Signed, sealed, so nearly delivered: The Council sent a formal notice to the European Parliament that they have done their part by approving the CAP reform, and passed the baton on to the Parliament for their approval.

CAP reform disappoints: A correspondence letter was published this week in Nature by academics Jeroen Candel, Sebastian Lakner and Guy Pe’er on how the final compromise of the CAP reform disappoints, saying that the reform is “unlikely to achieve the desired improvements in climate impact and ecosystems over the period 2023–27”.

CAPpy birthday! The CAP celebrated its 59th birthday this week.

News from the bubble

Fine or fraudulent wine? Whether you’re someone who likes a tipple from time to time, or a keen sommelier, it’s useful to be able to check that what you’re drinking matches what it says on the label, and now the JRC has released a new quality control tool to help you do just that! Learn more.

Methane strategy: The European Parliament’s AGRI Committee passed its opinion on the EU’s Methane Strategy to the ENVI Committee this week. ENVI is responsible for preparing the Parliament’s position, which raises for the first time at EU level the treatment of biogenic methane.

Gene editing: A research team from the University of Göttingen and the University of British Columbia (Canada) has investigated how people in five different countries react to various usages of genome editing in agriculture, and found that the majority of people do not have an issue with the technology. Learn more.

Pig welfare: The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) released a new public consultation on pig welfare this week.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

CROATIA
The Croatian agriculture ministry has recently come under fire at home for having signed an €800,000 contract with the external consulting company Ernst&Young to draft their SWOT analysis for the strategic plan, despite the fact that the institution employs more than 700 workers. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN
The food delivery company Deliveroo has announced its intention to stop operating in Spain, due to the strong competition in the sector, and for this it will open a consultation process among its workers. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

FRANCE
In a joint statement signed on 20 July and published this week, Japan’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Nogami Kotaro, and France’s Minister of Agriculture and Food, Julien Denormandie, stressed the importance of a balanced diet to ensure sustainable food systems in the future. Such a diet should, they say, be “based on a diversity of safe and nutritious foods, produced in a sustainable way”. The promotion of a sustainable diet should also be “based on scientific evidence and data as well as traditional and local know-how”. Both countries committed to contribute to the sustainability of food systems worldwide by “sharing experiences in the development of dietary guidelines and education”. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

GERMANY
Germany has approved €60 million to promote digitalisation in agriculture. According to the agricultural ministry, the money is earmarked within the government’s new Mobil Communications Strategy to “boost the sustainable digital transformation of agriculture and rural areas”. “With the new funding regulation, we want to further strengthen the pioneering role of agriculture in the use of digital technologies,” minister Julia Klöckner said on Monday (26 July). The funding programme will comprise two components: A “farm-of-the-future” module that will financially support farms in testing the use of digital technologies, and a “regions-of-the-future” model to promote the digitalisation of agricultural value chains in rural areas. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)

UK
Supermarkets could face a “summer of disruption” to milk deliveries if the government does not act to address a shortage of lorry drivers, the boss of the UK’s biggest dairy supplier, Arla, has said after it was unable to deliver to 600 stores last Saturday due to dwindling driver numbers. Read more in the Independent. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
Improving soil fertility was found to be the most significant cost-saving measure identified in the Smart Farming programme in 2020, according to the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), reports Agriland. Paul O’Brien, IFA Environment Committee chair and Smart Farming leader said: “Farmers taking the Smart Farming challenge in 2020 identified potential savings of €1,624 or €25/ha by implementing measures to improve soil fertility. “Soil is one of the most important assets on any farm. Better soil fertility can support increased production, improve farm incomes and enhance environmental performance on farms,” he said. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

ITALY
Italy’s government approved a decree on Thursday (29 July) to transpose into the national legal order the unfair trade practices (UTPs) directive aiming to redress the imbalances between large operators and their trading partners with weak bargaining power. Two days before the approval of the decree, the Commission sent letters of formal notice to the 12 member states – including Italy – for having failed to transpose the EU framework. With the law just passed, Commission is expected now to refrain from opening an infringement procedure against Italy. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

ROMANIA
The Romanian government is currently discussing a budget revision, and its agriculture minister Adrian Oros has called for more money for the sector to pay damages for drought-related losses and various aids to farmers. Moreover, the ministry wants to invest in the expansions of its anti-hail systems. Oros said he does not yet know if his ministry will get all of the money it requested, as ministers from the Cabinet are only now proposing changes to their budgets, while Prime minister Florin Citu said the budget deficit will not be wider than last year, meaning the increase in budgets could be limited. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

SLOVENIA
The European Commission has approved a €1.4 Slovenian scheme to support farmers affected by the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Slovenian authorities had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework.

PORTUGAL
The European Commission has approved a €275,000 Portuguese scheme to support companies active in the sugarcane-processing sector in Madeira in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the State Aid Temporary Framework.

Events

3 August – Five EU-funded Horizon 2020 projects focusing on rural enterprise, tourism and heritage development have come together to offer a free short online Summer School, one of which is on 3 August.

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