Negotiators aim to include organic agriculture in the EU’s agricultural statistics review and digital technologies can provide a creative way to reduce any additional burden on farmers, the file’s rapporteur Petros Kokkalis told EURACTIV in an interview.
As part of efforts to consolidate and streamline the way the EU collects data in the agricultural sector, the European Commission is reviewing the regulation on agricultural inputs and outputs (SAIO).
The first trilogue between MEPs and national governments on the regulation, which will cover statistics on agricultural production, agricultural prices, nutrients, and plant protection products, kicked off on Thursday (3 February).
Underscoring the importance of the regulation, leftist MEP and rapporteur for the file, Petros Kokkalis, told EURACTIV that successful data collection underpins the EU’s green ambitions, including the Green Deal and the EU’s organic action plan.
“We need better statistical support for evidence-based policy going forward,” he stressed, adding that data is an vital part of a transition that must be “very fast, very efficient, and very radical”.
The review is widely welcomed by stakeholders, who have long reserved criticism about the way that the EU collects and reviews agricultural data.
Most recently, 28 campaign organisations co-signed a letter in which they stated that the EU’s statistics office, EUROSTAT, currently only receives incomplete data on the use of pesticides.
“This means that there is no precise data available showing what pesticides were used in the last years to produce food in the EU, nor where, when, and in what quantities they were used,” the associations warned.
First impressions broadly positive
Speaking to EURACTIV fresh from the first trilogue meeting, Kokkalis said initial impressions were broadly positive.
“All parties, the Commission and the Council seemed very much eager and keen to conclude this file,” he told EURACTIV.
On the Parliament’s side, which Kokkalis said is united, two main points aim to ensure that the regulation is fit for the Green Deal and increased transparency.
This includes the collection of statistics on pesticides, as well as veterinarian medical products and antimicrobials, he specified.
However, Kokkalis also took the opportunity to stress the peculiarities of this file.
Besides its highly technical nature, the file is being led by EUROSTAT, rather than the Commission’s agricultural or environmental directorate generals, he pointed out.
One of the stickiest points raised by stakeholders ahead of the trilogue is organic agriculture.
Organic agriculture is a key priority of the European Commission, which wants to see 25% of agricultural land in the EU being farmed organically by 2030.
However, while the inclusion of organic is in the Parliament’s mandate, the EU Council’s original position introduced provisions that would limit the collection of data on organic farming.
For EU organics association IFOAM, this restriction would be a “missed opportunity”.
“We cannot rely on agricultural statistics that do not take organic agriculture into account,” Jan Plagge, IFOAM Organics Europe President, said in a statement, while director Eduardo Cuoco pointed out this would be a great way to plug the data gap on organic that researchers have been highlighting for years.
Asked by EURACTIV about plans to include the collection of data in the organic sector in the review of the regulation, Kokkalis said negotiators want to see “clarity and visibility of organic on data on organic production, and also output the prices which reflects market condition”.
He added there was a “broad agreement on all parts of the Council and the Commission that that’s what we’re aiming for.”
While it will take some creativity from negotiators to hash out the technical details of how best to do this, Kokkalis said he does not see this being a problem going forward.
But while campaign groups call for more agricultural data, EU farmers are mindful of the extra administrative burden this may bring.
While he stressed that ensuring farmers are not overburdened was “high on the agenda”, Kokkalis played down these concerns.
“We need more data, but that doesn’t mean we have to increase administrative burden,” he said.
Pointing out that most farmers are equipped with smartphones and connected via social media applications such as Facebook, Kokkalis argued that technology could provide a creative way to help minimise any administrative burden on farmers.
“I think that in this day and age in the second decade of the 21st century, and with the opportunity to have digital equipment and data collection points, which are practically in the pockets of every farmer, […] we need to be creative here,” he said.
However, he added assurances that negotiators are “doing [their] best in the SAIO to keep it lean and mean”.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]