While calls to reconsider the green goals the EU has set for the food sector have increased since Russia attacked Ukraine, German farm minister Cem Özdemir has stressed sustainability efforts should not be curtailed.
“I want to be very clear that anyone calling to backtrack on the first steps European agricultural policy has taken towards promoting climate and environmentally friendly agriculture is barking up the wrong tree,” Özdemir said after an extraordinary meeting of EU agriculture ministers last week.
The Green German minister also used the publication of a new assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as an occasion to stress the importance of making agriculture more sustainable even under the current circumstances.
“Today, too, my concerns are focused on the people in Ukraine. But the dramatic situation there cannot distract from the necessities of climate protection,” he said in a statement, adding that the food sector also suffers from droughts and extreme weather events induced by global warming.
As both Ukraine and Russia are significant exporters of grain and oilseeds, there have been calls, including from French minister Julien Denormandie, for the EU to focus on food production over sustainability in the face of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions the West has launched against Russia.
EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski also said the Commission would look again at the objectives set out in its main sustainable food policies, the Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity strategy, to assess whether they can ensure Europe’s food security even under current circumstances.
However, Timmermans, the commissioner in charge of delivering the ambitious Green Deal, dismissed any idea of relaxing sustainability goals in the EU’s food policy on Monday (7 March).
“Please, don’t believe in the illusion that […] you would help food production by making it less sustainable, by not opting for Farm to Fork strategy, by not making it more resilient in terms of the natural environment and the food production,” he warned.
Third countries most affected
The issue will be discussed again at a meeting of the 27 EU ministers later this month (21 March), and Germany might well prove to be the primary opponent to backtracking on the sector’s green goals.
Unlike many other actors in Brussels and different member states, Özdemir has repeatedly stressed that he does not see food supply in Germany or the EU at risk in the face of the war in Ukraine and that the focus should be on other parts of the world.
While he conceded in a statement that due to rising energy costs, price increases for fertilisers and agricultural commodities are to be expected and could also affect consumer prices, he said the EU is self-sufficient enough when it comes to grain markets to take the blow.
Globally, however, the situation could be more severe, the minister stressed. “While food supply in Germany and the EU is secured, we have to expect more significant shortages in a number of third countries – especially in regions that are already facing food shortages, for example, due to droughts,” he said on Tuesday (8 March).
According to the ministry, Turkey, North Africa, and Asia are dependent on imports from Ukraine and Russia and could be significantly affected.
Food aid for Ukraine
To stabilise international markets, Özdemir has called an extraordinary meeting of the G7 agriculture ministers on Friday (11 March). Germany is currently the chair of the group of the world’s seven economically biggest democracies.
“Together, we need to make sure that this senseless war does not worsen food scarcity in many parts of the world,” Özdemir said, adding that representatives of the European Commission, the UN food and agriculture organisation (FAO), and other international organisations had also been invited.
At the same time, the meeting will focus on potential measures to help secure food supply inside Ukraine, which is why the Ukrainian minister will also attend. On Sunday, the country had announced that it was halting exports of essential foodstuffs such as wheat and sunflower oil to secure domestic supply.
“Russia’s unlawful attack means immeasurable suffering for Ukrainians – any help is needed now,” Özdemir stressed. On Friday, the German ministry had announced the creation of a new logistic hub meant to coordinate German food aid to Ukraine.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/ Alice Taylor]