Agrifood Brief: Who’s afraid of Farm to Fork?

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Has the recent debate over food security somehow compromised the sustainable ambitions of the Green Deal food chapter, the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy?

That’s the question that – very timidly – many in EU the bubble have started to wonder, with some dreading the answer.

To immediately clear the field of any ambiguity, a u-turn on what is spelt out in the strategy is extremely unlikely.

Before being a part of the political mandate of this EU administration, the Farm to Fork is merely the recognition that Europe’s food system, as it stands, features some evident loopholes which need to be fixed.

It is more the method picked by the Commission to fulfil this ambition that is facing, if not a halt, then a sort of loss of momentum.

The first sign that something in the F2F asset has started to squeak came from the recent statement by Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans on food security – after almost two months of silence on the topic.

Last week he told MEPs in the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) that spreading fears of food shortages is “irresponsible and dishonest“, referring to those who are using the war as a “pretext to derail the EU’s green farming ambitions.”

“Let’s not add to [EU citizens’] anxieties with false problems just to try and safeguard your economic position in certain sectors. And I can’t plead enough for this, and please, let’s work together on this,” he said.

The message to lawmakers was clear: help me in my fight against the attempts to bloc the Farm to Fork.

ENVI chair Pascal Canfin recently complained about the ambiguous position on the Green Deal dossiers of the largest group in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), so much that EURACTIV’s energy editor Fred Simon has started wondering in this week’s brief if the group still support von der Leyen’s Green Deal.

The other hint that something is going on was this week’s vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the non-binding initiative put together in reaction to the Commission’s organic action plan, which is a component of the Farm to Fork.

But while MEPs massively supported the bloc’s ambition on organic, they voted for a text that made no mention of the ambitious target to see 25% of agricultural land farmed organically by 2030, as laid out in the Farm to Fork.

A new element in play is the strong comeback of agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski as a reference point for the farming world.

It is no secret the EU farming boss got off on the wrong foot, with key stakeholders even admitting publicly they felt unrepresented by him.

Some readers would probably remember that he was not even present when the F2F was unveiled by the Commission, even though his own service, the Directorate-General for Agriculture (DG AGRI), had played a major role in drafting the strategy.

But that’s in the past: the consequences of the war in Ukraine and the push on food security have reconciled him with the farming community.

For instance, Wojciechowski’s curt reply to the well-documented and long Twitter thread on food security from Timmermans was hailed by the president of the EU’s farmers association Copa, Christiane Lambert.

He remains ‘friends’ with small farmers too, as shown by his presence at the inauguration of the Brussels office of the European peasant organisation Via Campesina.

It’s not only about connections: Wojciechowski recently had a major role in advocating for farmers’ interests having pushed the College of Commissions (basically, the EU’s cabinet) to increase the threshold for the number of livestock units that will be subjected to the industrial emissions directive.

While the EU seems to give a contradictory message on food security with the stances of Wojciechowski and Timmermans, it is also important to notice that agricultural production, in this phase, remains a powerful geopolitical tool. And, as such, has an electoral weight.

Although it seems very far from now, there will be European elections in two years and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has to play strategically in order to be re-proposed at the helm of the EU executive since her party is no longer a ruling one in the country.

Just to make a practical example of how food, intended as a commodity, could be used for geopolitical purposes: Wojciechowski will meet with Turkish Agricultural Minister, Vahit Kirişçi, to discuss how to strengthen agri-trade relations between the EU and Turkey.

They will try to address Turkey’s heavy reliance on Russia with wheat imports amounting to $1.66 billion. And von der Leyen’s country, Germany, is the EU’s largest wheat exporter, and the fourth-largest wheat exporter for Turkey after Russia, Ukraine and Canada.

Reliance on agricultural productivity also aims at winning a geopolitical race, not only at addressing food shortages. Any debate on food security should be very clear on this aspect.

Perhaps, these factors can enlighten us as to why the push on production is temporarily deflecting the road laid down by the Farm to Fork.

By Gerardo Fortuna

 

Podcast

Agrifood Podcast: Food security, EU organics plan, panicky markets

Welcome back to the EURACTIV agrifood podcast! After a short break, EURACTIV’s agrifood team are back and this week discussing all things food security, including the deepening cracks in the Commission over its response to the Ukraine war and the …

After a short break, EURACTIV’s agrifood team are back and this week discussing all things food security, including the deepening cracks in the Commission over its response to the Ukraine war and the missing Green Deal target in MEPs report on organic farming. We also speak with crop scientist and analyst Sarah Taber, who explains why the panic over food security in light of the war is the real risk to global food systems and how countries can compensate for the lost agri-trade with Russia and Ukraine.

Agrifood stories of the week

MEPs massively back organic farming but snub Farm to Fork target
The European Parliament has green-lighted a new report on the EU’s organic action plan, which stresses a market-based approach but makes no mention of the bloc’s ambitious target to see 25% of agricultural land farmed organically by 2030. Natasha Foote reports.

Macron’s big plans for French agriculture
From tackling the decline of young farmers to the announcement of a ‘third agricultural revolution’: what has the newly re-elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, promised for the country’s agricultural sector? EURACTIV France reports.

German government mulls limiting biofuel production
Germany’s environment and agriculture ministries are reportedly working on restrictions for biofuel production so more grain can be used as human food as agriculture markets remain strained due to the war in Ukraine. EURACTIV Germany reports.

German agri minister wants to help export-blocked Ukrainian grain
Ukraine needs logistical support for the export of crucial agricultural products currently impacted by Russia’s aggression, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir, who wants to mobilise fellow G7 countries to help Ukraine, has said. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In case you missed it

Agrifood Brief Special CAPitals Edition: Next (farming) Generation EU
Don’t miss this  Special CAPitals Edition of the Agrifood Brief in which the EURACTIV network takes a deep dive into the current situation across EU member states when it comes to generational renewal in the farming sector.

How has the Ukraine war impacted the EU’s food security?
How has the Ukraine war impacted the EU’s food security? Find out more in EURACTIV’s video explainer and for a detailed look at how the war has impacted EU member states’ national strategic plans, check out our Special Report.

Agri-bites

Trade with Turkey: EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski will meet with Turkish Agricultural Minister, Vahit Kirişçi, next week. The meeting will focus on food security in light of the war in Ukraine, as Turkey is heavily dependent on Russia’s wheat, and agri-trade relations between the EU and Turkey in the agrifood sector. According to sources, during this week’s Special Committee on Agriculture meeting, some member states took the floor to emphasise the importance of these dialogues being conditional on Turkey’s behaviour, and the need for the Commission to keep a tough stance to safeguard EU and member states’ interests.

Knowledge exchange: The European Commission published an evaluation detailing the enhancements witnessed in the CAP’s impact on knowledge exchange and advisory activities. In raw terms, the number of farmers receiving advice and having access to training in the EU increased in the period 2014-2020 compared to 2007-2013. Learn more.

Food insecurity growing at alarming rate: The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent life-saving food assistance and livelihood support continues to grow at an alarming rate, according to an annual report published this week by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC), an international alliance of the United Nations, the European Union, governmental and non-governmental agencies working to tackle food crises together.

No need to buy sunflower oil in advance: While the market situation for sunflower oil at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine was rather tense, triggered by panic buying across the whole chain up to the final consumer, the situation has over the last weeks improved, according to a statement from FEDIOL, the EU vegetable oil and protein meal industry association. This is due to additional flows of sunflower seeds that are being further processed in the EU, and of sunflower oil coming out of Ukraine mostly by rail and by truck.

Have your say on school canteens: The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the EU school scheme which supports since 2017 the distribution of fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products to schoolchildren, from nursery school up to secondary school. The Commission has launched a review of the EU school scheme as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy with the goal of creating a favourable food environment that makes it easier to choose a healthy and sustainable diet. The consultation is open to stakeholders but also school children and their parents and will be closed on 28 July.

More opportunities to export goods from Ukraine: To help Ukraine with exports, the Romanian Ministry of Transport plans to hold a tender by May 19 for the repair of a wide-gauge railway between the village of Giurgiusti (Moldova) and the port of Galati to launch a supply route from Ukraine via Moldova to Galati – Ukrainian Grain Trade informs. Thus, the ports of Galati and Constanta will become the main ports in the region for the transportation of goods and raw materials.

Deregulation of GMOs: An alliance of organisations signed a petition against the deregulation of new GMOs this week as part of a European campaign led by a coalition of more than 45 farmer, environmental and citizen organisations from more than 15 EU countries, calling for all genetically modified crops, including gene-edited crops, to remain strictly regulated and labelled in the EU.

Carbon certification controversy: Small farmers association European Coordination refused to fill the Commission’s consultation on certification of carbon removals this week on the grounds it is “disingenuous”. Backed by several other NGOs, the association sent a letter this week in which it argued that the consultation is “heavily biased towards a carbon offset and crediting approach” and ignores many of their concerns.

Agri-trade: The total value of EU agri-food trade reached a value of €28.3 billion in January 2022, a 25% increase compared to the same period last year and a 16% increase on the three-year average, according to a new report.

Fertiliser companies cash in: The fertiliser sector stands in line for its biggest profits in years on the back of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to reporting from Reuters this week.  

Meet and greet: EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski held a number of high profile meetings this week with ministers, such as with Austrian agriculture minister Elisabeth Köstinger, as well as with various stakeholders, including ​​CropLife Europe, who represents Europe’s crop protection industry, to exchange views on how to tackle the challenges we are currently facing arising from the Ukraine war and ensure food security.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

CZECH REPUBLIC

Commission: Czechia should reduce dependence on gas-based fertilisers. The European Commission called on the Czech Republic to reduce its dependence on synthetic fertilisers, which are mainly produced from Russian natural gas. Read more. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)

NETHERLANDS

Dutch farmers warn food shortages loom amid drought. As Russia’s war on Ukraine is already putting a strain on agricultural markets, Dutch farmers now fear that the lack of rain this spring could lead to crop failure and food shortages. Read the full story here.

FRANCE

Denormandie pushes back on Commission’s criticism. After the European Commission had sent its evaluation letter on France’s national strategic plan for the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)to Paris, in which raised a number of criticisms, French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie has now responded with a letter of his own. Find out more.

ITALY

First case of swine fever near Rome. A wild boar affected with African swine fever was found dead in the Insugherata nature reserve, in the municipality of Rome on 5 May. This is the first case in Italy recorded outside the areas of Liguria and Piedmont and as such, it has put in alarm the Italian livestock sector. Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa has been tasked with monitoring activities to contain the spread of the virus and prevent its spread in farm pigs.

UK

UK lifts tariffs on Ukraine goods. Following a plea from Kyiv, the UK government has decided to cut tariffs on all goods from the country to zero as well as remove quotas – especially on agricultural commodities – under the countries’ free trade agreement. According to a government statement, the decision was made in an effort to “provide Ukraine economic support in their hour of need.” The EU had recently taken a similar step and scrapped import tariffs and quotas for Ukraine goods for one year.

GERMANY

Germany and India agree on agroecology cooperation. Germany and India want to jointly promote the “agro-ecological transition,” according to an agreement struck by the two countries at the sixth edition of the German-Indian government consultations on Monday (2 May). According to the declaration, a “lighthouse cooperation” in this field is set to support Indian small farmers on issues such as food security, resilience to climate change, reforestation, water management and soil improvement. Berlin intends to mobilize up to € 300 million in preferential loans for the project by 2025. German development minister Svenja Schulze welcomed the agreement. “India suffers significantly under the climate crisis, as the current heatwave shows,” she stressed. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

AUSTRIA

Mandatory origin labelling and new animal welfare rules. Austria’s parliament has adopted a law introducing a mandatory origin label. According to the legislation, the packaging of animal products will have to contain information about whether the product comes from Austria, the rest of the EU, or a non-EU country. The law also foresees stricter animal welfare rules, including a ban on routine male chick culling and the tethering of cattle all year round, as well as tighter standards on animal transport. While agriculture minister Elisabeth Köstinger welcomed the law’s adoption, Green MEP Thomas Waitz said the minister had caved into industry lobbying by leaving the rules on animal transport too lax. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg launches food quality label. Luxembourg’s parliament has adopted a law setting out a new labelling system for agricultural products, which is set to mark high-quality, regionally sourced products as “government approved”. According to a government statement, the voluntary label is awarded based on a catalogue of criteria in three overarching categories: quality and taste, regionality and solidarity, and environment and animal welfare. Before the law enters into force, the European Commission first has to give its agreement, as the legislation falls under the scope of the EU directive on technical regulations. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

SPAIN

Spanish farms become fewer but bigger. Spain has lost farms, but those that remain are larger on average, according to the new Agriculture Census that was presented on Wednesday at the National Statistics Institute (INE). Based on data from 2020, the census updates the information from the previous one, published in 2009. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

GREECE

New action plan for pesticide packaging in line with EU objectives. A new action plan worth €260,000 for an “integrated management of pesticide packaging” was recently presented by the agriculture ministry, following cooperation with other relevant bodies. The ultimate objective is to raise awareness among farmers and other actors involved in the pesticide use process. This plan is meant to bring Greece’s policy on the matter in line with relevant national and EU objectives on the transition to an environmentally friendly economy and the creation of comparative advantage. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

Events

10 May | European Parliament’s AGRI Committee meeting

10 – 13 May | FAO Regional Conference for Europe 

11 May | Farm demo conference

11 May | Social innovation in shrinking villages

12 – 14 May | International congress of mountain and steep slopes viticulture

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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