European lawmakers have criticised the European Commission’s decision to sit on the controversial study on the impacts of the Farm to Fork for half a year, calling it a “sneaky” move designed to conceal its contents.
The comments come after documents seen by EURACTIV revealed that the long-awaited Joint Research Centre (JRC) study, which evaluated the impacts of the Commission’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy published mid-August, was actually earmarked for publication in January of this year.
“The study has now been cleared at service-level by DG SANTE, CLIMA, ENV and AGRI (…),” a note dated 13 January addressed to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski from the director-general of the Commission’s DG AGRI, Wolfgang Burtscher, read.
The decision to publish the report without fanfare in the midst of summer was widely seen by agricultural stakeholders as an attempt to bury the outcome of the study. As a result, the news that the study was ready months before publication sparked considerable disquiet among MEPs.
Pointing out that MEPs in the AGRI committee have been asking since November 2020 to publish preparatory studies, French MEP Anne Sander said that the lawmakers were told in March 2021 that the work “had not been completed”.
“And then journalists realised that we already had elements in January. So there are a lot of questions being asked about the substance and the form. And my impression is that certain things have been hidden,” she said during an AGRI committee meeting on Monday (11 October).
She added that while stakeholders do not have the necessary tools to measure the impact of agricultural policies, any objectives put forward by the Commission will not be credible.
Meanwhile, centre-right MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen criticised the fact that the Commission was pressuring Parliament to make the Farm to Fork strategy targets binding and to conclude the negotiations of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) while “concealing” the results of the study.
“We learned last week that […] throughout that period of time, throughout those negotiations, this study was put in somebody’s drawer in an office. But it’s really going to have an impact on farmers and on consumers,” he pointed out.
Socialist MEP Clara Aguilera also queried why the study was presented “so late in the day”.
“This has had a huge impact in all sectors because it would appear that it’s hiding something. We need to clarify the issue,” she said.
Aguilera was not alone in suggesting that the Commission may have deliberately buried the study.
Far-right MEP Gilles LeBreton said he was “scandalised” to see that the Commission has been “hiding [the JRC study] for several months”.
“We are the representatives of the citizens, and that’s how we’re being treated,” he said, adding that the Commission was “sneaky” because the impact assessment announces “catastrophic consequences for agriculture”.
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.
French centrist MEP Irene Tolleret took particular umbrage because the report was published just before the Parliament validated the strategies proposed by the Commission and after the groups negotiated the amendments on the Parliamentary report.
“We have to be brave when it comes to climate change. But it’s not because we don’t want to achieve the objective that we shouldn’t be careful about legislative proposals,” she warned.
Likewise, rapporteur on the Farm to Fork strategy Herbert Dorfmann lamented that the report, which he praised as being “well done”, was not available to MEPs earlier.
“It has been a good contribution to my work as a rapporteur on the Farm to Fork strategy to have this study in my hands and to know the result of this study, as scientific work should always be taken into consideration in a political debate,” he pointed out to EURACTIV during a recent episode of the Agrifood Podcast.
He added that it was “quite obvious” that the Commission did not want to publish this study, so did it “in the middle of the summer hoping that nobody will read it”.
Responding to the criticisms, DG AGRI’s Tassos Haniotis assured MEPs that the Commission takes their concerns about the timing “very seriously”.
“But one thing has to be clear in your mind; if the purpose of this study were to deceive or cheat, the study would have never come out,” he said.
“We should be clear about what is possible and what is not possible. The Farm to Fork strategy and the Green Deal is an evolving process where many elements come in successive steps,” he said.
The Commission previously told EURACTIV that there was no “hidden agenda”, but instead put the delay down to an attempt to address a number of shortcomings of the report identified back in January prior to publication.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]