Agrifood Brief: (You make me feel like) a natural product

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.

This week, we speak with: EURACTIV’s very own Digital Editor, Sam Stolton, about digitalisation in farming, including the challenge of rolling out broadband to rural areas and the concerns over data protection 



If this year has had you feeling inspired and tired, you might have looked to shake up your eating habits. You might have even branched out into more natural products in a bid to turn over a healthier leaf.

And you wouldn’t have been the only one, according to consumer advocacy group Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE), who say there has been an increased interest from consumers in health and nutrition, due, at least in part, to revived interest in health in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

This has made the term “natural” increasingly more appealing for consumers, and increasingly lucrative for those providing them.

But a new report from the group, published on Thursday (19 November), has flagged concerns over the use of the term ‘natural’ to describe food products, warning that for many products, such a label may be misleading.

The report analysed the composition of hundreds of products currently available on the market, including a number of soft drinks, sauces and sweets.

It found that many using a “natural” claim, including phrases such as “100% natural” and “all natural ingredients”, included synthetic substances such as flavourings and synthetic E numbers.

This is misleading consumers, the advocacy group warned, arguing that clearly defining what a natural product means is key to consumers’ peace of mind and in helping them choose more sustainable options.

“An average consumer does not have the proper knowledge to identify and understand the composition of most of the products available on the market. The term ‘natural’ is overused, being applied on products which contain chemical substances,” the report reads.

It comes on the back of a growing debate around sustainability labelling and how best to enable consumers in making healthy, sustainable and informed choices, a theme which features heavily in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

While the use of the term is not outlawed, the EU does not currently offer a legal definition of what can be considered ‘natural’.

However, the general principles of Article 7 of the EU regulation on food information to consumers apply to the use of this term.

This article stipulates that food information “shall not be misleading,” particularly as to the characteristics of the food, including its nature, as well as its identity, properties, and country of origin, among others.

A reference to the term ‘natural’ can be found in the annex of the EU regulation on health claims, although it does not require any clear condition to be fulfilled by food producers to use the term. The same goes for the EU regulation on flavourings, which provides for the possibility to use the term ‘natural’ for flavouring substances or flavouring preparations.

“Specific information requirements laid down in that legislation should ensure that consumers are not misled concerning the source material used for the production of natural flavourings,” an EU source told EURACTIV, adding that, in particular, if the term ‘natural’ is used to describe a flavour, the flavouring components used should be entirely of natural origin.

However, these references do not go far enough, the advocacy group says, adding that the legal ambiguity over the use of the term is leading to its misuse.

“The Farm to Fork strategy represents a great opportunity to finally create an EU sustainable labelling framework up to EU consumers expectations and current environmental challenges. However, we are going to lose this chance if the EU does not develop stringent labelling requirements, such as the definition of ‘natural’ for EU food products,” warned Floriana Cimmarusti, secretary-general of SAFE.

An EU source told EURACTIV that, while the Commission is open to considering proposals to improve legislation, there is currently “no concrete plan to define the term ‘natural’ for its general use on food labelling”.

EURACTIV also reached out to FoodDrinkEurope, who represent the EU food and drinks industry, but they declined to comment.


Agrifood news this week

Commission and MEPs look for a fresh start after CAP tension

The European Parliament and the Commission are trying to restore mutual trust after the recent quarrels about the reform of the EU’s massive farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Gerardo Fortuna has more.

EU Commission pesticide approval procedure under fire from EU watchdog
The current procedure for the approval of active substances in pesticides “raises concerns” according to the EU Ombudsman, who outlined several recommendations for measures to improve the approval process and increase its transparency. Natasha Foote has more.

New EU food agency tool reopens date marking rift
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has stepped into the long-standing issue of date marking on food by presenting a new tool to help business operators decide when to apply the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date to their products. EURACTIV’s agrifood team has the story.

New fraud investigation casts doubt over used cooking oil origins
A fresh biofuels fraud investigation in the Netherlands has once again shone a spotlight on the origin of imported used cooking oil (UCO) in the EU. Natasha Foote reportsUS-UK imports of meat raised with antibiotics risk undermining EU farmers
Trade of meat from animals raised with antibiotics between the United Kingdom and the United States threatens the progress recently made on antibiotic resistance and risks adversely affecting both British and EU meat producers, warns a new report published on Tuesday (1 December). Read more. Wholegrains slash risk of death by up to 24%, says UN food branch
Regular consumption of whole-grains significantly reduces the risk of death,  a recent paper by the food branch of the United Nations has found, with stakeholders now calling for more action to promote whole-grains as part of a healthy diet. Read more.

Study: Micropollutants have ‘significant potential impact’ on water ecosystems, human health
A study carried out by the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRAE) into micropollutants at the exit of wastewater treatment plants has concluded that, despite a lack of comprehensive data, their impact on the environment remains undeniable. EURACTIV France reports.

News from the bubble

CAP transition finalised: The European Parliament and the EU Council provisionally agreed on an interim two-year period where current CAP rules will apply before the next EU farming subsidies programme starts. The deal also the disbursement of €8 billion to farmers from the EU’s Recovery Fund.

Agri Commissioner returns to his roots: The EU Agriculture Commissioner returned to his home ground of Poland and the village where he grew up on his parent’s farm this week to speak about the importance of creating an agricultural policy that this friendly for farmers, while also friendly for the environment, climate, animal welfare.

Commission canteen closure: The European Commission has taken the decision to suspend its catering activites from 1 January 2021, a move that has been criticised by the European Federation of Food, Agricultura and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) as the 400 workers in the restaurants and cafeterias of the European Commission now risk being made redundant without any compensation.

Commissioner backs reduced live animal transport: During this weeks committee on animal transport, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski expressed his staunch support for reducing the live transport of animals, both in number of animals and distance transported

Call for nuance over meat: Speaking during the European Livestock Voice’s first event this week on whether meat is really destroying the planet, Michael Scannell, deputy director-general at DG AGRI, called for nuance over the debate on livestock and meat, saying that it is not possible to have viable rural communities without a viable livestock sector. He also argued that, while there are issues in the livestock sector that need to be addressed, well-managed livestock can contribute to sustainability and the EU’s green goals.

CBD is novel food: In light of a recent decision of the European Court of Justice, the European Commission has concluded that cannabidiol (CBD) products should not be considered as a drug and, therefore, it can be listed in the novel food catalogue, reversing its initial assessment.

Commission to address rural depopulation: The Commission, in cooperation with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and with the support of the Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP), now Technical Support Instrument, has launched the project “Strategic Governance Plan for Rural Depopulation in the macro-region of South-west of Europe (RESOE)” in Spain.

World Soil Day: On Saturday (5 December) it is World Soil Day, highlighting the importance of soil as the basis of our agricultural systems and a critical component of the ecosystem. To mark the occasion, the EU Soil Observatory has been launched to monitor trends of soil health in Europe.

Soy blog: The EU Grain Chain launched its blog on actions towards enhanced sustainability in the soy supply chain. This blog gives information on challenges, actions and progress in the responsible transformation of the soy supply chain.

Farming by satellite: The 2020 Farming by Satellite award went to the Spanish project Graniot, a web application for agronomists and farmers to conduct weekly crop monitoring by using European satellite technologies. The prize is organized by the GSA, the European agency in charge of managing operations and service provision of Galileo and EGNOS.


Agrifood news from the capitals

The German Agriculture Ministry and the European Agricultural Research Initiative examined what politics and research can do to effectively tackle the problem of digitisation in agriculture at an online conference on Wednesday (2 December). EURACTIV Germany reports.

On Tuesday (1 December), French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie detailed his brand new “national strategy on plant proteins”, which plans to increase the areas sown with protein-rich plants by 40%. To reach this objective, the government plans to allocate 100 million euros to these sectors over two years. This strategy has several aims that the Minister of Agriculture highlighted on his Twitter account: “regaining agro-food sovereignty” vis-à-vis foreign imports, “relocating production” with a benefit for the environment and “ensuring additional remuneration to French farmers”. Currently, European countries are very dependent on imports of vegetable proteins from the American continent. According to the Commission’s 2018 report on the development of plant proteins in the European Union, the bloc imports nearly 17 million tonnes of crude protein every year. 13 million tonnes are soya-based, whose protein content makes it the essential feed for pig, cattle and poultry farms. (Lucie

Plans to ban the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening have been unveiled by the Environment Secretary this week, as part of a renewed push by  the UK government to strengthen the itt position as a world leader on animal welfare. These proposals form part of an eight-week consultation, launched today in England and Wales, seeking views on how to better protect animal welfare during transport. (Natasha Foote |

Without a Brexit trade deal, the average income on Irish beef farms could drop by 40% in 2021, according to an Outlook 2021 Economic Prospects for Agriculture report published by Teagasc this week. The experts warn that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, if tariffs at the rate indicated by the UK government earlier this year are imposed, Irish exports to the UK are likely to collapse dramatically in 2021. “Irish agriculture faces an enormous challenge in 2021 if no post-Brexit trade deal emerges,” the Irish Examiner reported the expert as saying. Beef farms would be hardest hit, with the 40% income slump assumed “in the absence of very significant Brexit specific income support.” (Natasha Foote |

Italy is not satisfied with the way the issue of nutritional labelling is being dealt at the EU level, the agriculture minister Teresa Bellanova told her Portuguese counterpart Maria do Céu Antunes in a bilateral meeting. According to Italy, the latest talks at the EU Council have confirmed the difficulty of reaching an agreement in the Council. “In our opinion, the approach has not been completely neutral,” the minister stressed in a note, calling on the other member states to go a bid deeper into the right to transparency for consumers. (Gerardo Fortuna |

The Brussels Capital region’s action for annulment of the Commission’s implementing regulation renewing the approval of the active substance ‘glyphosate’ is inadmissible, the EU’s highest court, the Court of Justice, ruled this week. It concluded that the Brussels region has not shown that it was directly and individually concerned by that decision. (Natasha Foote |



7 December – There is a EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss the next steps that need to be taken to foster, facilitate and accommodate the authorisation of feed additives, and the role that innovative products play in supporting sustainability. More information here.

7 December – The AGRI Committee will hold a public hearing on “EU agriculture after Brexit” with remote participation. The hearing is intended to tackle the impact of Brexit on agricultural trade flows, including the particular situation of Ireland and the protection of geographical indications. Experts will present their views on the above-mentioned issues, with focus on the most affected sectors and member states. More information here.

8-10 December – The International Forum of Agricultural Robotics is holding a virtual event, designed to share knowledge, innovations and experiences with agricultural robotics experts from around the world. See here.

10 December – Agricultural company Bayer will hold  a virtual presentation to explain the glyphosate dossier and renewal process, followed by a Q&A session. More details here.




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