Farmers call for measures to secure food production as COVID-19 crisis bites

Customers at the Coldiretti farmers association market do their shopping wearing gloves and masks to protect themselves from the dangers of contagion from Coronavirus, in Naples. [EPA-EFE/FUSCO]

EU farmers’ organisation COPA-COGECA has called on the  European Commission to ensure the smooth functioning of agricultural production – including cash flow – in view of further restrictions expected to be adopted in the coming weeks to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Despite difficult conditions stemming from the spread of COVID-19, farmers have so far been able to maintain the supply of food to citizens across the EU, COPA-COGECA and Conseil Européen des Jeunes Agriculteurs (CEJA), representing young farmers, say in a letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (18 March).

However, the emergency resulting from the spread of the virus is having a rapid and negative knock-on effect on the farming and forestry sectors, in the short and in the long run, warns the letter seen by EURACTIV.

The coronavirus is having “dramatic consequences in the most affected rural areas of the EU,” says the letter, warning about looming risks to the daily supply of food since both European and international markets are under threat due to travel restrictions.

As Germany closes borders, EU warns of risks to basic supply chains

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Sunday (15 March) that EU countries imposing border checks were threatening supply chains and increasing the risks of shortages.

The warning from Brussels came as Germany became the latest EU country to …

Farmers called on the Commission to ensure the EU’s agriculture and food markets continue to operate smoothly in face of further restrictions likely to be adopted by national governments in the coming weeks.

“All measures that can safeguard and guarantee the functioning of agricultural activity and its cash flow must be introduced,” the letter insists.

COPA-COGECA also called for joint action across the EU value chain to secure stable food supplies, in particular when it comes to upcoming retail tenders.

Taking into account the exceptional circumstances, the farmers’ organisation suggested the Commission to support the agricultural and agri-tourism sectors using resources coming from outside the conventional agricultural budget.

Farmers welcomed the assessment by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) which found no evidence that food is a source or transmission of the virus.

EFSA’s chief scientist, Marta Hugas, said that “previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur”.

No evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food, says EFSA

There is currently “no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission” of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has concluded.

In order to give farmers more time in these extraordinary circumstances, the Commission offered member states the option of pushing back applications for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments until 15 June this year, instead of 15 May.

The move comes after Italy’s agriculture minister, Teresa Bellanova, asked the EU executive Commission for a postponement of some CAP-related administrative procedures in order to relieve Italian farmers affected by the coronavirus emergency.

In a letter sent to the Commission on Monday (2 March), Bellanova wrote that the “hardship the farming sector is going through is clear and we must do everything to loosen the grip that squeezes businesses and workers.”

Extension offered for CAP application deadline due to coronavirus

All EU countries have now been offered the option to extend by one month the deadline by which farmers must submit their applications for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, the European Commission announced on Tuesday (17 March).

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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