Commission reaffirms commitment to EU’s green goals in first food security meeting

Among the most pressing issues included supply of both animal feed and seed, with stocks of both rapidly dwindling in some member states. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Commission stood firm in its resolve to forge ahead with the EU’s sustainable food goals in the first expert meeting on food security this week, despite growing fears around food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.

The expert group on the European food security crisis preparedness and response mechanism (EFSCM) came together for the first time on Wednesday (9 March), ahead of the originally scheduled kick-off meeting on 23 March.

The group was set up as the main novelty in the context of the contingency plan for food supply and food security in times of crisis, adopted last November under the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

The platform brings together EU member states’ representatives with other relevant agri-food stakeholders to discuss food security in the bloc and deal with future emergencies or crises that emerge in relation to the food supply chain.

“I firmly believe the risks to food security in the EU can be contained if we all cooperate and coordinate our actions,” the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said at the start of the closed-door meeting.

The issue has taken on a new significance in the past days given Ukraine and Russia’s central role in supplying the world with staple grains and oils.

Together, the two agricultural powerhouses provide more than a third of the world’s wheat and barley, 52% of maize and over 50% of sunflower oil and seeds.

The idea behind the ad-hoc meeting was to provide an opportunity for stakeholders and member states to brainstorm ideas to stabilise and improve the coordination of the EU’s agri-food sector in light of the imminent trade disruptions arising from the war.

These proposals will now be considered by the EU executive in its upcoming Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting on Monday (14 March).

Food security again under EU spotlight in the wake of COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark on the EU’s new food policy, as the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), presented on Wednesday (20 May), demonstrated a renewed interest in food security to ensure the supply during crises of any nature.

Farm to Fork revision not on the table

But one suggestion that will not be under consideration is that of revising the agri-food part of the EU’s Green Deal, composed of the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategies.

The controversial idea has been gaining ground in recent days with the largest parliamentary group, the centre-right Europe People’s Party, even hinting at putting on hold the implementation of the strategies, much to the chagrin of environmental campaigners, Green and Leftist MEPs.

The suggestion to halt the Farm to Fork was backed and put forward during the in-camera meeting by the EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA and supported by Croatia, EURACTIV has learnt.

However, according to sources, the Commission refused point-blank to entertain the idea of revising the goals of the strategies, with DG AGRI’s Michael Scannell, who chaired the meeting, making it clear that this was not a topic of discussion.

This was reinforced by Deputy Director-General Wolfgang Burtscher, who sources say cited droughts in Southern Europe and the looming threat of climate to demonstrate why it is “not possible” to put aside the EU’s green goals.

Meanwhile, in his introductory speech, Commissioner Wojciechowski called on stakeholders “not to see this group as a forum of political demands, where our existing policies should be questioned radically.” 

Timmermans cautions against relaxing Green deal goals for sake of food security

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans stood up for the Green Deal objectives in the EU’s farming policy despite the calls of prioritising food security aspects in the wake of supply disruptions caused by the Ukraine war.

Feed and seed

Some of the most pressing issues of the meeting included the supply of animal feed and seed, with stocks of both rapidly dwindling in some member states.

Pointing out that the sowing season is rapidly approaching, stakeholders warned that the failure to secure an adequate supply of seed would therefore have longer ranging ramifications into the next harvest season.

In efforts to find alternative markets, some of those present in the meeting, including Spain, asked for derogations in the EU’s rules on maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides, as well as a relaxation of rules on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This would allow the EU flexibility in sourcing from places like the US, which have different levels of acceptability in these respects. 

However, stakeholders stressed that time was of the essence, something that is especially true for southern member states, including Cyprus, Portugal, and Spain, who warned that, at current rates, they run the risk of exhausting stocks of animal feed by Easter (17 April).

Given that the transport time of stocks from the US was calculated at between 30-40 days, sources said that the atmosphere surrounding the topic was “tense”. 

“It’s very delicate to get the timing right,” one source pointed out, adding that, for the moment, the Commission did not offer any indication of whether they might lend support for such a move.

Other controversial topics on the menu included Hungary and Bulgaria’s decision to halt the export of cereals.

The move was criticised by Commissioner Wojciechowski, who said this was an example of the type of “uncoordinated action we should avoid”.

“This approach would destabilise markets and increase risks further,” he said, adding that member states must avoid the “temptation to decide too rapidly and in an uncoordinated way.”

Romania will not limit wheat exports

Romania has no plans to limit cereal exports, despite several countries in the region doing so in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Exports from Russia and Ukraine, which account for 30% of the wheat trade, have practically stopped, raising …

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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