March 2. 2024. 1:48

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Agrifood Brief: For cod’s sake!


What can go wrong in an eight-hour debate between MEPs, the Commission’s services for fisheries and for the environment right after the contentious bottom trawling phase-out in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)?

A lot, as it turns out.

The proposed ban on this fishing method – which involves heavy nets being dragged across the seabed – made waves in the European Parliament’s fisheries committee (PECH) meeting this week.

Scientific evidence has shown that a healthy seabed is essential to protect marine ecosystems and preserve biodiversity – which is why the EU executive is taking steps to phase out bottom trawling in MPAs.

But it is also one of the main fishing methods used in Europe, accounting for 32% of total EU landings.

According to a document prepared by the Commission’s service for fisheries DG MARE and seen by EURACTIV, the ban would lead to the loss of €870 million and 2,900 direct jobs.

With so much at stake, it was inevitable that sparks would fly – and fly they did, with lawmakers slamming the proposal and accusing the Commission of sidelining them and the fishers’ organisations during the heated debate on Wednesday (1 March).

DG MARE director general Charlina Vitcheva stood her ground while responding to their concerns and criticisms.

“Caring for the fish and the environment where they live and thrive, is caring for the fishers,” she said, calling on the sector to stop ‘sharking’ its responsibilities.

But her words were just a drop in the ocean for the majority of fisheries MEPs, some of whom were left visibly reeling from the debate.

“Good luck,” liberal chair of the PECH committee Pierre Karleskind told Vitcheva before one of her responses.

But luck didn’t prove enough for the Commission to close the debate on good terms, with some MEPs suggesting that some may choose to ignore the plan.

“Luckily, this is not a legally binding document,” centre-right MEP Peter Van Dalen pointed out.

“Politicians are certainly going to think twice about whether they use it,” he continued, “and what about penalties, are there any if countries don’t get involved?”

Then, already five minutes overtime (then without interpretation available), the official Veronica Manfredi from the Commission’s service for the environment (DG ENV) took to the microphone for the first time.

“The approach that has been chosen is to try to change things in cooperation with the member states and the fishery community to eventually phase out those practices that […] are leading the fishery community to shoot itself in its feet,” she said.

And if member states do not comply, “we will have to launch a string of very fast infringement procedures,” she added.

“We will see each other in Luxembourg,” she warned referring to the headquarters of the EU Court of Justice, shooting down any idea of mutiny.

For Louis Lambrechts, ocean policy officer at the world wide fund for nature (WWF), while “the heated discussions may be entertaining to some, they are anything but trivial.”

“It is worrying that certain MEPs are so comfortable making misleading, ill-informed and sometimes dangerous claims regarding the future of EU seas and fisheries,” he pointed out.

But this debate is far from fin-ished as, after Manfredi’s intervention, MEPs demanded DG ENV to come back to discuss the action plan further.

To be cod-tinued…

Agrifood Podcast: Fisheries package, CAP third pillar

Agrifood Podcast: Fisheries package, CAP third pillar

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team walks you through the Commission’s fisheries package which includes the ambition to ban bottom trawling from all marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2030, and EURACTIV’s Paula Andrés talks to Enrico Somaglia from the European trade …

Agrifood stories this week

EU food systems law to lean on green labelling, procurement
Mandatory requirements for sustainable public procurement and a voluntary harmonised sustainability labelling system have been ranked among the preferred policy initiatives under the EU’s framework for a sustainable food systems (FSFS) law, according to a leaked impact assessment. Natasha Foote has the story.

How climate change is killing the Bulgarian pink tomato
The pink tomato, first grown in the Bulgarian village of Kurtovo Konare over 125 years ago, is losing a battle with a deadly enemy, the mining moth – and farmers are running out of weapons to fight it. EURACTIV Bulgaria reports.

Integrated pest management a success in Spain, but more support needed
While Spanish farmers have embraced integrated pest management (IPM), as per EU rules on the matter, they say more support and research is needed to extend the application of the biological control. Belén Delgado from EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

Expert: Investment in integrated pest management paying off in Italy
The number of farms implementing integrated pest management (IPM) in Italy has skyrocketed over the past few years. EURACTIV Italy spoke with Donato Rotundo from farmers’ association Confagricoltura to learn more about the impact this has had and how this success can be built upon. EURACTIV Italy’s Francesco Stati has the story.

Integrated pest management struggles to take off in Romania
Despite efforts to encourage the uptake of integrated pest management (IPM) techniques and reduce the risks associated with the use of pesticides, it has struggled to take off in Romania. EURACTIV Romania reports.

Wheat surplus makes phasing out biofuels obsolete, say producers
Amid plans by the German agricultural and environmental ministries to phase out conventional biofuels by 2030, energy crop producers argue that with the current oversupply of grain in countries neighbouring Ukraine, their justification has become obsolete. EURACTIV’s Jonathan Packroff explains.

German minister wants to ban junk food ads for children
Marketing targeted at children and advertising food with too much fat, sugar, or salt could soon be banned in Germany, according to plans presented by Green agriculture and food minister Cem Özdemir. Julia Dahm has the details.

Agri-bites

SCA. The provisional agenda for the next Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting, scheduled for Monday (6 March) will focus on the market situation in the EU following the invasion of Ukraine as well as trade-related agricultural issues. “Uncertainty in EU agricultural markets remains high despite the partial unblocking of Ukrainian Black Sea ports and the success of the EU’s solidarity lanes initiative,” the background note for the meeting reads.

Black Sea Grain initiative up for renewal. The SCA meeting comes just as the agreement on the Black Sea Grain Initiative is set to expire on 18 March and is up for renewal again. Russia has signalled that it is unhappy with some aspects of the deal and has asked for sanctions affecting its agricultural exports to be lifted, while Ukraine is seeking an extension of at least one year and the inclusion of the Ukrainian port of Mykolaiv.

Lots of letters. Two open letters were sent this week over the EU’s sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR); one from the signatories of the European Citizen’s Initiative “Save the bees and farmers”, which urges agriculture committee chair Norbert Lins to work constructively with his counterparts in the environment committee to advance the file, and another signed by 69 organisations across Europe in support for Green MEP and rapporteur for the environment committee Sarah Wiener’s draft report on the proposal. we expressed our gravest concerns regarding the actions to water down, delay or retract the proposal.

Meanwhile, in a new report, the European academies’ science advisory council (EASAC) expresses concerns about member states and industries using loopholes in EU pesticide regulations to allow the continued use of banned insecticides. “To claim that the threat to food security due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means we have to stick with conventional chemical-dependent agriculture is unjustified. There is plenty of evidence that proposed alternative methods can deliver the same or even better yields while maintaining nature’s ecosystem services,” Michael Norton, EASAC’s environment director, said.

Monitoring ‘key’ to carbon farming. Better monitoring, reporting and verifying carbon removals is the first step to take towards upping negative emissions, the European Commission’s Christian Holzleitner told MEPs during the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) meeting on Wednesday (1 March). Back in late November, the EU executive had presented plans for a unified certification scheme for carbon removals, including in agriculture. While some lawmakers voiced scepticism regarding the planned temporary negative emission certificates, Holzleitner said it was important to recognise that agricultural soils do not store carbon indefinitely.

Janusz Wojciechowski visits the largest farm in France. On Thursday (2 March), a delegation of the European Commission was invited to the 59th edition of the International Agricultural Show in Paris. The marathon day started with an exchange with French Minister Marc Fesneau on the CAP and plant proteins and ended with a meeting with Secretary of State for Europe Laurence Boone. In between, the Commissioner had the opportunity to discuss with the actors of the French sectors. “I welcome France’s positive contribution in all areas of European affairs, from solidarity with Ukraine to working together for sustainable food security,” Wojciechowski said.

Tuna trialogue. MEPs in the Fisheries committee (PECH) have decided to start negotiations with the Commission and the Council for the multiannual management plan for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Fair access to land. The European coordination via campesina (ECVC) published a farmer-written proposal for an EU directive on agricultural land. The directive outlines how EU institutions can implement fair, democratic and sustainable land policies to combat the economic, ecological and climate crises and guarantee food sovereignty, as without access to land, farmers cannot produce good quality food for the population.

Devastating pest arrives in the EU. Fall armyworm moths were trapped in January in the Limassol district in Cyprus. The fall armyworm is one of the most dangerous plant pests in the world, wreaking havoc on a whole range of crops, from cotton to corn and sugarcane. For more information, check out EFSA’s pest survey card.

Exports up to pre-war levels. In December 2022, the share of Ukraine in extra-EU exports was above the pre-war level (1.5% in December compared with 1.2% in February 2022) while imports remained slightly below (1.0% compared with 1.1%), according to the latest data from Eurostat.

Best practice for IPM. The European Commission published a database of 1,300 examples of practices, techniques and technologies for Integrated Pest Management, accompanied by a study assessing their effectiveness, this week. Check it out here.

Experts wanted. Are you an expert in food security, food safety or sustainable agriculture, with a background in the African context of these topics? The European Research Executive Agency (REA) is looking for experts to help select Horizon Europe proposals. Details here.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

CROATIA

Croatians consume most expensive eggs in EU. Egg prices have risen sharply, and these prices go up by more than 70% before reaching consumers, making them the most expensive eggs in the EU at €292 per 100 kilos, an analysis by the Novi List daily published on Monday showed. Read the full story. (David Spaic-Kovacic I EURACTIV.hr)

BULGARIA

Bulgarian government doubles down on unfair retail trade practices. Retail chains in Bulgaria have caught the eye of the authorities as the Commission for Consumer Protection has revealed the high rate of violations and suspected unfair trade practices in the retail sector. Learn more. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

GERMANY

Government to crack down on livestock antibiotics use. German agriculture minister Cem Özdemir wants to tighten rules for the use of the contentious antibiotic colistin for veterinary purposes. colistin is among the substances that some think should be reserved for human use only in order to prevent antimicrobial resistance (AMR). While draft plans put forth by Özdemir last Friday (24 February) would not ban the use of colistin in animals, it will require stricter documentation of when and why the substance was used as well as ban the repurposing of colistin for oral application to livestock animals. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

IRELAND

ITALY

Pesticide cuts with genomics. After a meeting in Brussels with Italian MEPs, Italy’s agriculture minister criticised the EU’s proposal on sustainable use of plant protection products saying “that pesticide cuts need to be compatible with production”. He suggested working on the reduction of pesticide use ‘but rather with genomics’ since ‘food sustainability must go together with economic sustainability’.

ATHENS

Bridging gaps in farmers’ training. In a recent interview with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency, Greek Giorgos Georgantas pointed to the significant gap between Greece and the European average in terms of farmers’ training. The training rate of Greek farmers is only 6.7% compared to an average of 25% in the EU and 80% in the Netherlands, based on the latest data. Georgantas, therefore, set the bridging of this gap as a priority for the next term of the government. He also stressed the need for agrotechnology to become part of the production process in order to balance the need to increase production and the push for a better quality of life for farmers. (Marianthi Pelekanaki I EURACTIV.gr)

FRANCE

French wines receive 3,500th geographical indication. Wines from the French region of Corrèze now carry protected designations of origin, making them the 3,500th entry in the register of EU geographical indications. EURACTIV France has more. (Hugo Struna I EURACTIV.fr)

SPAIN

Beekeepers caught between a rock and a hard place. A whole host of factors, including rising production costs, unfavourable weather and increasing imports from China come together to make honey production in Spain less and less profitable. Beekeepers are sounding the alarm. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

SLOVAKIA

Slovak parliament pressured to make chicken farming cage-free. The National Council will look into banning cages for chickens and laying hens after investigation videos showing the animals’ welfare conditions in three Slovak farms made the rounds online. Read more. (Michal Hudek I EURACTIV.sk)

AUSTRIA

Farmers call to action ahead of women’s day. Ahead of International Women’s Day next Wednesday (8 March), Austria’s Chamber of Agriculture has warned there is still a lot to be done when it comes to gender equality in farming. “We cannot stop working on this issue, because old ways of thinking have not been broken down everywhere and there is still a lot to do until we reach de-facto equity,” the Chamber’s vice-president, Irene Neumann-Hartberger, said. For her, more needs to be done to up the proportion of women in leading and managing positions in farming. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

Events

6 March | ENVI committee meeting

6 March | Special Committee on Agriculture meeting

8 March | Ukraine One Year Later: the impact of the war on agricultural markets and food security

8 March | Women in the agri-food industry

9 March I Bringing urban food policies to the table

10 March I Agriculture & climate crisis: WATER – a scarce resource?