The European Commission chose to delay for half a year the publication of its controversial report on the potential effects of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, opting instead for a quiet mid-summer publication, according to documents seen by EURACTIV.
The publication of the long-awaited study, carried out by researchers from the Commission’s in-house Joint Research Centre (JRC) and released on 11 August, was mired in controversy from the outset, with agricultural stakeholders accusing the Commission of deliberately attempting to bury the results.
EURACTIV was able to reveal that the report was actually ready for publication in January, according to a note addressed to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski from the director-general of the Commission’s DG AGRI, Wolfgang Burtscher, obtained by EURACTIV.
The note, which is dated and electronically signed by Burtscher on 13 January, informs the Commissioner about the state of play on the JRC study and earmarks its provisional publication date as “envisaged end-January”.
“The study has now been cleared at service-level by DG SANTE, CLIMA, ENV and AGRI (…),” the note confirmed.
It offered a summary of the conclusions of the report and was sent alongside a draft of the study, a three-page note, and a note from DG AGRI on the interpretation of the results, adding that a full draft would be shared with the Commissioner once available.
“This note is due to be finalised at Cabinet-level in the coming weeks, prior to the publication of the study by the JRC,” it said.
The letter added a warning that “careful interpretation of these results is needed” because of the sensitive nature of the contents of the report.
The report concluded that environmental improvements would be accompanied by a 10% reduction of EU supply for agricultural products, reaching a maximum of 15% reduction for meats, the note pointed out.
It also added that the report touches upon farmers incomes and prices.
The news appears to lend support to the rumours that the Commission’s decision to publish the report without fanfare in the midst of summer – which upset a number of agricultural stakeholders – was a political one.
The report explored the potential impact of the reform of the EU’s farming subsidy programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), on the sector with respect to selected environmental indicators, production, income, prices and trade.
Among its findings, the report concluded that whatever the scenario, the achievement of sustainability goals included in the F2F would result in a 5-15% decline in production across all sectors.
Contacted by EURACTIV, a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that there was no “hidden agenda,” but instead there were a number of shortcomings of the report identified back in January that the Commission attempted to address prior to publication.
These shortcomings were related to “assumptions used and the ability to capture dynamic situations such as changes in consumer behaviour as they reflect recent shifts in dietary trends,” rather than methodological concerns, the spokesperson said.
Upon realising that it was not possible to address these issues in a reasonable timeframe, the Commission instead decided to go ahead with the publication of the study anyway “without delay”, the spokesperson said.
This would enable a discussion with the scientific community with the view to further improve the modelling capacity of the Commission in the future, she said.
However, the spokesperson declined to specify exactly at what point the Commission realised that these shortcomings could not be overcome, saying she was unable to give details on the Commission’s internal discussions.
Asked about the decision to publish in the middle of summer, rather than July or September when most agricultural stakeholders are working, the spokesperson said she was “not aware” of any controversies surrounding the date of publication of the JRC study and the study was published “when we were ready”.
“The Commission is always working, even through summer,” she pointed out.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]