April 13. 2024. 5:02

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Agrifood Brief: Swede’s dreams


Swede’s dreams are made of … what? Well, not agriculture, if the past couple of months is anything to go by.

Because, despite promises in their priorities that food production and food security issues will remain at the ‘top of the agenda’ – as mentioned in their priorities – the Swedish EU presidency started in January has failed to impress so far on the agriculture front.

The first signals that something was amiss came after the first meeting of EU agriculture ministers back in January when journalists learned that the February meeting was cancelled as there was “not enough on the agenda” to warrant it.

“We only want to call meetings with enough content,” a spokesperson told EURACTIV at the time.

The move predictably sparked considerable consternation considering that, far from sweet dreams, farmers have been living nothing short of a nightmare in recent months, squeezed between rising fertiliser, feed and energy prices.

“Glad they feel there is nothing to discuss and work on! I could think of at least ten hot topics,” one farmer wrote on Twitter at the time.

The absence is all the louder considering that, thanks to firstly the COVID crisis followed in quick succession by the fallout of the Ukraine war, agriculture has been catapulted high on the agenda of all of the recent presidencies.

Another sign that agriculture might not be top of the priority list came this week in the form of the answers EURACTIV received in an interview with the Swedish agriculture minister.

This is pretty standard practice – each time a new presidency rolls around, EURACTIV reaches out to the new chair of the AGRIFISH EU Council for an interview.

Now, in all fairness, unlike EU giants Germany and France, the Swedes did at least grant an interview.

But the answers were short and snappy.

Take the minister’s answer about their promise to follow up on any proposals and initiatives designed to strengthen European food production, as set out in the Presidency priorities.

“There are ongoing discussions about the agricultural reserve. The Presidency has raised the issue, and now the Commission has the initiative,” came the curt reply.

Likewise, no words were wasted on the contentious issue of the front-of-pack labelling proposal puzzle – which fell onto the Swedish EU Council presidency after little progress was reached under the Czech one.

“If the Commission presents a proposal, we will be ready to progress the work,” the reply read.

Even on the state of play on the trilogue negotiations on revising the EU’s fisheries control regulation – which arguably should be one of Sweden’s strong points – the minister simply said that the Presidency is “aiming at reaching an agreement, but there still remains work to be done,” with no further details offered.

And we’re not the only ones to think efforts on agriculture have been lacklustre so far, with plenty of quiet murmurings from stakeholders, one of which told EURACTIV that the minister doesn’t seem particularly committed to the cause.

Others have expressed that the presidency isn’t proactive enough on agricultural issues, worrying that they have not been given a central enough role.

Considering the challenges facing the sector, let’s hope that the Swedes ‘keep their head up and keep movin’ on’ the key files that they will have to deal with over the next few months.

Agrifood Podcast: Livestock leak, chat with MEP on pesticides

Agrifood Podcast: Livestock leak, chat with MEP on pesticides

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team talks about the leaked Commission’s document that suggests some livestock sectors will be hit more than previously thought by the revision of the Industrial emissions directive (IED). We also speak about the clash between two …

Agrifood stories this week

Swedish minister expects job only half done on pesticide reduction plan
A common position among the EU agriculture ministers on the sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) will not be reached under the Swedish EU presidency, Swedish Agriculture Minister Peter Kullgren told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Commission sounds alarm as progress stalls on pesticide reduction plan
A question mark hangs over the sustainable use of the pesticides regulation (SUR) timeline after a leaked letter showed agriculture MEPs are dragging their feet on the crucial file, leading Commission officials to accuse them of deliberately blocking progress. Natasha Foote has the story.

Proposed EU bottom trawling phase-out splits stakeholders
While attempting to bring together the EU’s environmental ambitions and the economic viability of its fisheries sector, the measures proposed by the Commission have been labelled as insufficient by blue NGOs and as devastating by the industry. Paula Andrés brings you all you need to know.

EU agency backs cage-free farming for chickens
The use of cages, the practice of mutilation and feed restriction should be avoided for the welfare of farmed broiler chickens and laying hens, according to new scientific opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Paula Andrés has all the details.

Commission harmonises rules on animal vaccination to tackle bird flu
The European Commission has announced new rules to harmonise the vaccination of animals against the most serious animal diseases as part of efforts to address the largest epidemic of avian flu observed in the EU so far. Natasha Foote explains more.

Probiotics sector ferments amid push to tweak outdated EU framework
Latest developments on the ‘probiotics’ term saga suggest that the time is ripe for overcoming the current regulatory framework which, for more than 15 years, has hindered the EU probiotics sector from flourishing as well as restricting consumer information. Gerardo Fortuna explores the issue in detail.

Commission: Labelling ‘jungle’ deters consumers from buying green food
Consumers are keen to pick sustainable food products even if they cost more, but are deterred by a lack of trust in the labels meant to mark food as green, according to a leading European Commission official for justice and consumers. Julia Dahm has more.

Germany bets on integrated pest management for halving pesticide use
Implementing integrated pest management (IPM) is part of Germany’s toolbox to achieve the 50% reduction target the EU could set in its new pesticide legislation. But in practice, many hurdles stand in the way. Julia Dahm explores the issue.

Evolution, not revolution: Integrated pest management gains ground in Poland
Integrated pest management (IPM) – a strategy which uses a hierarchy of plant protection products to minimise the use of chemical pesticides – is gaining popularity in Poland, but producers say change must happen by ‘evolution rather than revolution’. EURACTIV Poland has more.

CAP corner

Agriculture reserve: what is it, what does it do
The agricultural reserve – previously the crisis reserve – was triggered last year for the first time ever to support EU farmers after the invasion of Ukraine – and could be used again this year, according to the European Commission. But what do we really know about the agricultural reserve? In this video explainer, EURACTIV’s Paula Andrés takes a closer look at this key emergency farming tool.

Agriculture reserve: what is it, what does it do

Watch this video in Spanish or in Romanian.
The agricultural reserve – previously the crisis reserve – was triggered last year for the first time ever to support EU farmers after the invasion of Ukraine …

Agri-bites

GMO authorisations. The European Commission has authorised the use of genetically modified rapeseed and has renewed the authorisation for genetically modified soy, for human and animal consumption after the European Food Safety Agency has issued a favourable scientific assessment. These authorisations will be valid for 10 years.

Geographical indications reach 3.5k. The Commission approved the addition of ‘Corrèze’ wines from France to the register of protected designations of origin (PDO), adding the 3,500th entry in the register of geographical indications (GIs).

Commission proposes to renew trade benefits for Ukraine for a year. The Commission put forward its proposal to renew the suspension of import duties, quotas and trade defence measures on Ukrainian exports to the EU for another year on Thursday (23 February). However, in a statement, the Commission said it was ‘mindful’ of EU industry concerns. Neighbouring countries have repeatedly raised the alarm after an influx of Ukrainian agricultural goods onto the EU market. As such, and considering the significant increase in imports of some agricultural products from Ukraine to the EU in 2022, the Commission put forward an expedited safeguard mechanism in its renewed proposal to protect the EU market if necessary.

SCA meeting. Despite the fact the February meeting of EU agriculture ministers was cancelled, the preparatory meeting – the special committee on agriculture (SCA) – still went ahead. According to sources inside the closed meeting, delegates discussed the proposed revision of the legislation on geographical indications, among other topics, raising concerns over the potential role of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in dealing with applications for GIs. Discussions also took place on the proposed regulation on the labelling of organic pet food and opportunities in the bioeconomy. The next SCA meetings are scheduled for 6 and 13 March and will focus on preparing for the March AGRIFISH Council, especially on the market situation and agri-trade issues, as well as the nature restoration law.

Veterinary drug residues in food decline. Residues of veterinary drugs and other substances found in animals and animal-derived food continue to decline in the European Union and compliance levels are on the rise, according to the latest data from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). The report covers various substance groups including hormones, antibacterials, environmental contaminants, prohibited substances and other veterinary drugs. Learn more.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

GERMANY

First steps towards more organic farming. Germany’s agriculture ministry is pushing for more organic food in canteens and restaurants in a first step towards achieving the coalition’s 2030 goal of ensuring 30% of arable land is dedicated to organic farming. Read more. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE

Water restriction measures announced for March. In the face of an unprecedented winter drought, France’s minister for the Green transition, Christophe Béchu, has announced a “water plan” that contains water use restrictions for the month of March. However, Béchu promised that farmers should still be able to water their crops. Find out more from EURACTIV France. (Hugo Struna I EURACTIV.fr)

AUSTRIA

Austria determined to defend organics top spot. The Austrian government is determined to ensure that the country continues to be the one with the highest share of organic farming in the EU, according to agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig. “Organic agriculture in Austria is a real success story,” he said during a public speech. “We are organics country number one in the EU and our goal is to keep it that way,” he added. Among other things, the ministry aims for 35% of arable land to be farmed organically by 2030 – a significantly higher target than the EU-wide one of 25%. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

SPAIN

Government launches plan to prevent citrus disease. The Spanish government has established a national plan to prevent a disease known as “citrus greening,” considered one of the most serious and devastating diseases that can affect citrus fruits. The plan, which entered into force on Wednesday (22. February) is set to pre-empt any appearance of the disease, which is not currently circulating in Spain, according to the agriculture ministry. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

ITALY

Rice sector opposes new fungicide limit from third countries. The Italian rice sector is up in arms over the European Commission’s plan to raise the limits for the fungicide tricyclazole, which is allowed in rice imported from non-EU countries. Last January, EFSA proposed raising the maximum residual limit from the current 0.01mg/kg to 0.09 mg/kg which can now be approved by member states and the EU executive. For Coldiretti, one of the main Italian farmers’ associations, such an increase would be openly at odds with the principle of reciprocity as, in Europe, the use of the fungicide is banned in the EU since 2016. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

UK

LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg records bird flu case. A case of avian influenza was found in a great egret in the north of the country, the Luxembourgish agriculture ministry confirmed at the end of last week. The report comes after a number of cases were already found both in wild and farmed birds in the country during the past month. The ministry took the occasion to urge farmers to implement all recommended protection measures and report any suspicions of fresh cases to the authorities. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

Events

28 February | Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development

28 February | The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation – The role of closed loop circularity

28 February | Roundtable on animal transport in the European Parliament

1-2 March | ENVI Committee meeting, including debates on the future of the REACH regulation and the sustainable use of pesticides regulation.