Stakeholders remain divided on promotional support for target markets and animal products, with NGOs calling for meat to be cut off cold turkey, while farmers argue no products should be off the table for funding.
The comments came during a conference held 12-13 June by the European Commission on the future of the bloc’s promotional policy, designed to boost the competitiveness and consumption of EU agri-food products domestically and internationally.
The Commission is currently reviewing the policy with the aim of bringing agri-food promotion in line with the EU’s flagship Farm-to-Fork (F2F) strategy, as well as its Beating Cancer Plan.
“We must reflect if the promotion policy with its current structure and resources can effectively trigger a meaningful shift in EU production methods and consumption patterns whilst also supporting the competitiveness of the EU agri-food sector,” EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said in his opening remarks.
He added that the promotion policy must support the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the F2F strategy, by “rewarding those who have already made the transition to sustainable practices, enabling others to make the transitions, and creating additional opportunities for all agri-food businesses.”
However, presenting the preliminary results of the Commission’s public consultation, consultant Giulia Martino said that while there was broad consensus that the promotion policy should raise awareness on sustainable and healthy products, stakeholders were split on reforming the eligibility criteria for promotion funding.
Meat and alcohol promotion bones of contention
“We do want to see products that are harmful from the point of view of the environment, and also of health – given our current level of consumption – excluded from the promotion policy,” said Sini Eräjää from Greenpeace EU.
In practice, this would mean scrapping the promotion funding for meat and other animal products, she told EURACTIV.
“These are all products that we are consuming more than enough in the EU and we do not need any kind of additional promotion to tell people to consume more of them,” she added.
Nikolai Pushkarev from the European Public Health Alliance also said as a demand-oriented policy, the EU’s promotion policy should aim to “promote those types of food that contribute to healthy, sustainable diets, which are currently under-consumed,” such as fruit, vegetables, or wholegrain foods.
Pushkarev said alcohol should be cut out of promotion funding entirely, citing numerous health issues and called for a “less-and-better” approach to meat promotion – that is, a focus on fostering better production models, such as organic, while also capping funding for meat products.
However, farmers and food producers staunchly oppose a cut in promotional funding for any type of product.
“It should be stressed that the promotion policy is first and foremost an agri-food competitiveness policy,” industry organisations said in a joint statement. It was “absolutely possible” for the policy to contribute to enhancing sustainability at the same time, they added.
“No products or sectors should be excluded: all farm, food and drink products can be part of balanced diets and contribute to sustainability,” the statement continued, saying that excluding specific sectors would discourage producers who had already invested in enhancing sustainability.
Conservative MEP and co-rapporteur on the Farm-to-Fork strategy, Herbert Dorfmann, also told the conference that no products should be discriminated against, saying that all products could potentially “be produced sustainably just as much as they can also be produced unsustainably.”
Internal versus external target markets
Stakeholders’ views also diverged on whether the policy should promote exports as much as sales within the EU.
In his keynote address, agricultural policy expert Alan Matthews said the previous promotion policy reform had increased the focus on external markets.
“It is worth noting that sectors that are less dependent on exports, such as the fruits and vegetables sector, would prefer to reverse this trend,” he said.
For Commissioner Wojciechowski, “enhancing the competitiveness of the EU agri-food sector in the EU and abroad is of utmost importance.”
“Our farmers and agrifood value chains are facing a volatile global economic environment, which has been significantly affected by COVID-19 restrictions,” he said during his speech.
Frans van Dongen from the meat sector organisation COV said export support promotion was not at odds with sustainability and could contribute to the Farm-to-Fork strategy’s external dimension.
“When we are exporting our sustainable products to markets outside the EU, we provide an example, we create demand and set standards for sustainable products,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Pushkarev said that in order to make the best of the “supply-demand interlinkages” that promotion policy creates, “we should increase our focus on the EU internal market” rather than exports.
[Edited by Natasha Foote/Josie Le Blond]