European Green Deal vague on pesticides, genetic engineering

"If the EU Commission really means business, it would have to reform EU agricultural policy fundamentally", said MEP Sven Giegold, the spokesperson for the German Greens in the European Parliament. [Source: EPA]

The Green Deal presented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (11 December) avoided two controversial agricultural issues: genetic engineering and pesticide limits, EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Green Deal, unveiled earlier this week, called for “an increased level of ambition to reduce significantly the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilisers and antibiotics.”

The Commission said it “will identify the measures, including legislative, needed to bring about these reductions”. However, it said any decision would be “based on a stakeholder dialogue,” suggesting a long debate may still be lying ahead before new measures are taken.

Critics say several hot agriculture issues have been watered down in the final Green Deal communication.

A previous version included a 50% reduction in pesticides by 2030, as well as new reduction targets for fertilisers. The final document, however, only mentions a “significant reduction” in pesticides and fertilisers.

A section devoted to new gene-technological processes in plant breeding was also obviously changed. An earlier version of the Green Deal stated that the Commission wanted to adopt “measures to develop innovative ways, including new genomic techniques”.

The breeding of new organisms using genomic technologies, such as the CRISPR technique, is very controversial.

The European Court of Justice decided in July 2018 that manufactured plants are still to be considered as genetic engineering.  In the event that the new EU Commission was to focus on genome techniques, this would not only be a statement against the court’s decision, but it could also be a step away from applicable consumer protection laws, according to Green MEP Martin Häusling.

Such an approach could mean that plants bred by new technologies would be exempted from both the risk assessment by the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the labelling obligation, he told EURACTIV in an interview.

“Excluding the new breeding methods from genetic engineering regulation runs counter to the precautionary principle,” said Häusling.

EU Commission unveils ‘European Green Deal’: The key points

The European Commission unveiled its hallmark European Green Deal on Wednesday (11 October), outlining a long list of policy initiatives aimed at putting Europe on track to reach net-zero emissions, and a pollution-free environment, by 2050.

In the final version of the European Green Deal, however, the ‘innovation principle’ was removed. Instead, the terms are more carefully formulated, stating that “the potential role of new innovative technologies will be considered”.

More details should surface in the spring when the Commission presents its Farm to Fork strategy. Concrete, legal measures are expected the following, including possible new pesticide limits.

Critics call for fundamental farm policy overhaul

But critics say this is too timid. Overall, the Green Deal is holding back when it comes to concrete agricultural measures, they say.

Following the publication of the “Farm to Fork” strategy, a stakeholder dialogue on sustainable food chains should take place, according to the document. A biodiversity strategy is also announced for March 2020. But the current proposal to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, tabled by the previous Commission, will not be revisited to reflect the Green Deal.

2,500 scientists urge EU to reform environmentally 'damaging' CAP

More than 2,500 scientists across the EU have joined forces and reached out to the EU parliament in a letter urging them to “to act on the science, and undertake a far-reaching reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) without delay.”

This caused deep disappointment among environmentalists.

“If the EU Commission really means business, it would have to reform EU agricultural policy fundamentally”, said MEP Sven Giegold, the spokesperson for the German Greens in the European Parliament.

The president of the European Commission had uttered “many warm words on agriculture, but not a single concrete measure”, he said.

Party colleague MEP Martin Häusling is also of the opinion that with the CAP proposal currently on the table, the Green Deal will not be able to deliver what it promises. Some EU member states, he argued, would not use the newly given freedoms in the implementation of the CAP in the interests of environmental protection and organic farming.

“I do not know how we will then achieve climate targets. The objective of promoting organic farming will not be financially viable if the second pillar is cut too much,” the MEP said.

The CAP is currently still being negotiated in the EU Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture (AGRI). Since the EU elections in May, the process has been delayed because new MEPs are re-evaluating the file and the Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI), which is also involved, is calling for stricter environmental requirements.

Accordingly, 30% of the direct payments are to be tied to the so-called planned ‘eco-schemes’, but the AGRI Committee wants it to be capped at 20% and be applied on voluntarily basis. According to Häusling, the AGRI Committee should vote on the CAP in April, while the Parliament will vote on the text in June.

This would mean that final “trilogue” talks between EU member states, the European Parliament and the Commission would ultimately have to be concluded under the German EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2020.

The drawn-out talks have led the Commission to believe that the CAP won’t be reformed in time for the start of the next seven-year budgetary (2021-2027). In the European Green Deal, it is assumed that the new CAP will enter into force at the beginning of 2022.

The environment in the new CAP

Greens have strongly criticised the European Commission for what they say is a lack of concern for the environment in its proposals for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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