Coexistence of different agri models is key for pandemic recovery, says MEP

Mazaly Aguilar [EP/Emile Gomez]

In light of the difficult political context Europe is facing, with COVID-19, Brexit, US tariffs, and trade tensions, more thought should be put into different models of agriculture to address future challenges, the right-wing MEP Mazaly Aguilar (ECR) told EURACTIV in an interview.

“The pandemic has confirmed that agriculture is a strategic sector for European citizens,” Aguilar said, adding that it was not possible to anticipate what would happen in the coming weeks or months.

Given the problems with the pandemic, Brexit, US tariffs, and the Mercosur agreement, there would be many issues touching farmers across the bloc and, according to the Spanish lawmaker, the solution to limit the damages cannot only come from EU’s main farming programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

“In a post-pandemic world, we should understand that new green obligations to protect the environment cannot undermine our capacity to produce healthy and safe food at an affordable price for EU citizens,” she said, referring to the strong push on sustainability embedded in European Commission’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).

For here, the keyword for the future is coexistence. “Different models of agriculture must coexist to meet the challenges ahead. Focusing on organic production and local markets is a very partial response to our needs.”

To this end, Aguilar stressed that “precision farming and new plant breeding techniques should be further developed in a post-pandemic scenario to help organic production achieve sustainability.”

At the same time, she pointed towards the need for a plan to support farmers to overcome the effects of the pandemic.

“We need a plan with additional funding from the EU budget and in coordination with other EU policies, CAP cannot do it alone,” she said.

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As the exceptional measures taken by the European Commission have not been deemed adequate to relieve distressed agri-food markets, the idea of deploying the so far unused crisis fund, set up in the 2013 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, is coming to the fore.

Scrap the CAP?

The possible option of scrapping the proposed CAP reform if it is not in line with the EU’s flagship environmental policy, the European Green Deal, has struck a sour note in the first weeks of negotiations between the European Parliament and the outgoing German EU presidency chairing the EU27 farming ministers.

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Withdrawing the proposal would halt the talks and force the EU executive to re-start the legislative process by tabling a new document.

After Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans hinted at this possibility, the Commission has tried to tone down the dispute and defuse a potential institutional crisis.

Asked what she thought of this threat, Aguilar said it would not be the first time that the EU executive proposes to revoke its own proposal during negotiations between the Parliament, Commission, and Council representing EU countries, as it is often used as a negotiating strategy.

“I do not take seriously the threats from Timmermans, but I must admit I am very concerned about the prominent role he is taking in the negotiations over a file for which his knowledge and responsibility is very limited,” the MEP added.

For Aguilar, Timmermans is overreacting since, apart from a few issues in the green architecture, she does not see big differences between the positions of the Parliament and the Council.

Asked if she had expected such strong reactions from environmental organisations on the current negotiations, Aguilar said it seems to be “never enough to meet the green expectations”.

“I have experienced myself in some internal negotiations that if green and far-left groups do not get 100% of what they want, the final outcome will be useless despite the integration of many of their concerns and expectations,” she said.

Nutritional labelling

Earlier in December, EU agricultural ministers shelved plans for food labelling in terms of nutrition and origin, a thorny issue which has long been a bone of contention among governments.

One of the major obstacles is the trade-off between nutritional labelling and protection of regional products.

Commenting on member states being stuck on nutritional labelling, Aguilar said consumers simply need the best available information on the nutritional value of the products they buy.

“Unfortunately, the Nutriscore has shown that is not the best tool to help consumers to make the right choice as these sort of labelling schemes can be very harmful in the medium run as they will create the wrong perceptions in consumers about the food they eat,” the MEP said.

Nutriscore is a food-labelling system developed in France, and also used in Spain and Belgium. It is, however, opposed by Italy, which is trying to promote its own scheme called NutrInform.

“What we urgently need is more education and communication campaigns about what a healthy diet means, mandatory origin labelling and a better monitoring on labelling of imported products,” Aguilar added.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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