April 13. 2021. 12:18

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Agrifood Brief: More w(h)ining than dining – MEP’s beef with agri promotion


Welcome to EURACTIV’s AgriFood Brief, your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU. You can subscribe here if you haven’t done so yet.

23 — CAP fraud, Mediterranean label, Mercosur

Too much organic, not enough meat and wine.

That’s the take-home message from this week’s tense exchange of views between the Commission and the European Parliament’s AGRI Committee, which saw MEPs blast plans for the new direction of the promotion policy.

So what’s going on?

As part of the objectives of the Farm to Fork strategy, the Commission is undertaking a review of the €182.9 million EU promotion programme for agricultural products.

The objective is to boost the competitiveness and consumption of EU products in and outside the EU.

The idea is to enhance its contribution to sustainable production and consumption in line with evolving diets.

This means a special focus on promoting products and farming methods that support the European Green Deal objectives, such as organic products, fruit and vegetables and sustainable agriculture.

On paper, this sounds fairly innocuous, but, in practice, this represents quite a shake-up of the current promotional system, and MEPs have some serious beef with this.

The first issue served (or, more precisely, not served) up is the reduction in support for meat.

Meat has taken a battering over the past few months, with the debate raging on about its place in the EU’s vision of a sustainable agricultural system.

In relation to meat, the F2F specifies that the review should “focus on how the EU can use its promotion programme to support the most sustainable, carbon-efficient methods of livestock production”.

However, this seems to have been roughly translated into the marginalisation of red meat.

In a rare display of cross-party unity, MEPs condemned the move, arguing that it risks pushing consumers towards imports of more unsustainable meat.

Centre-right MEP Anne Sander did not mince her words when it came to the issue.

“If we want to focus on healthy production, we shouldn’t be importing meat from countries which don’t respect our levels of production, and we ought to inform consumers about sustainable livestock methods,” she said, adding that “no sector should be left behind”.

Leftist MEP Luke Ming Flanagan warned of the danger of veering from ‘promotion’ to ‘propaganda’, while far-right MEP Gilles Lebreton maintained that red meat and wine, another agri-production in the firing line, are both parts of the “European way of life”.

The second issue comes with the EU executive’s decision to offer up a considerable portion of the 2021 agri-food promotion budget to promote organic products, in line with the ambitions of the F2F strategy to triple the amount of land farmed under organic by 2030.

Centre-right MEP Herbert Dorfmann pointed out that, as it stands, approximately only 7% of land farmed in the EU is under organic production, while the EU is a net importer of organic produce.

“So, set aside 15 million for our sort of PR policy for these products which are not very representative on the market? I’m not sure what the thinking behind that is,” he criticised, adding that promotion policy needs to be more market-orientated.

Noting the many complaints about the focus on organic growth promotion for organic, Wolfgang Burtscher, director-general of DG AGRI, reiterated that the promotion policy focuses much more widely than just on the promotion of organic production.

“I personally feel that it is really very a thin line to, on the one hand, promote our products, which are so important for our farming community and the maintenance of rural areas, but also to respect and meet expectations from society,” he said.

But a bigger problem emerged from the conversation, highlighted by AGRI Committee Chair Norbert Lins.

“You’ve always told us that the Farm to Fork strategy is an open debate, that you wanted to hear out at our arguments, and yet the parliament hasn’t really spoken to this file as yet,” he said.

“The Commission has a clear idea, but if the Commission just forges ahead without listening to anyone, nevermind this parliament, then that is not a good solution,” Lins warned, while Dorfmann accused the Commission of dealing with the F2F “as if it were implementable legislation.”

“What about the member states? What about the parliament? Don’t they have anything to say on the matter?” he asked.

Burtscher countered by saying that all parties had been involved in discussions and would have an opportunity to vote on the strategy in a democratic manner.

“The European Parliament will be fully involved in the design of the new policy,” he assured lawmakers, although his comments seem to have done little to defuse the situation.

Agrifood news this week

Systemic misuse of EU agri grants in Central-Eastern Europe, report finds
Agricultural subsidies continue to be misused across countries in Central and Eastern Europe, despite numerous attempts by the European Commission to remediate the issue, according to a new report commissioned by the Greens/EFA political group. Natasha Foote has the story.

EU regions’ advisory body proposes ‘Mediterranean diet’ label
An ad hoc label for food products belonging to the Mediterranean diet is the latest suggestion in the EU-wide food labelling fray, and is intended to cope with negative effects caused by the colour-coded Nutri-score labelling scheme. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Unfair competition not top concern in green farming ambitions, says EU official
The discussion about pushing forward the green agenda globally should put less emphasis on the unfair competition for farmers that may arise as a consequence, a Commission official said recently, but the claim was quickly refuted by the farming community. Read more.

Snubbed European Parliament enters final laps of Farm to Fork race
The EU’s new ambitious food policy is ready to face tough parliamentary scrutiny from lawmakers who feel being pushed aside by the European Commission. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Level of food security in the EU is not uniform, report shows
European countries performed differently in a study that measures the state of global food security, showing an internal discrepancy within the bloc that put Europe behind North America in the ranking of regions. See here for more.

Almost half of French people have cut meat consumption in last three years
French people tend to eat less meat than before, according to the results of the Harris Interactive survey published on Thursday ( 25 February). This change in eating habits can only be welcomed, both from an environmental and health perspective. EURACTIV France reports.

‘Our forests are sick,’ Germany’s agriculture minister says
The German agriculture minister presented on Wednesday (24 February) a worrying annual report on the condition of German forests, which again highlights the dramatic effects of climate change on the ecosystem. At the same time, however, the forest is also the solution to the problem. EURACTIV Germany reports.

News from the bubble

CAP corner: The sixth trilogue on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposal for the strategic plans regulation took place this week. Discussions focused on several topics related to better and fairer distribution of direct payments, including the active/ genuine farmer and the payment for small farmers.

The Council has published the latest four-column document following the fifth trilogue with Parliament and Commission on the CAP strategic plans regulation

Meanwhile, the Portuguese Presidency has set out options for the inclusion of social conditionality in the CAP.

CAP measures were found to be generally effective, but had notable weaknesses, including a low uptake of measures (reaching about 10% of the EU farms and 20% of CAP beneficiaries) and implementation varies across member States, according to a new evaluation support study on the CAP’s impact on knowledge exchange and advisory activities published this week by the European Commission.

Foodie awards: FoodDrinkEurope have opened submissions for ‘the Foodies’ sustainability awards for food and drink SMEs. The Foodies are a celebration of sustainability achievement among 290,000 small and medium-sized enterprises that make up 99% of Europe’s food and drink industry. See here to learn more.

Zoonotic diseases: The number of reported human cases of illness caused by Campylobacter and Salmonella bacteria across Europe appears to be stabilising over the past five years, according to the latest report on zoonotic diseases by EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Campylobacteriosis, which has been the most reported gastrointestinal disease in EU since 2005, affected more than 220,000 people in 2019. Salmonellosis was the second most reported zoonotic disease in the EU, affecting about 88,000 people.

In other news, around 1,000 detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were reported in 25 EU/EEA countries and the UK between 8 December 2020 and 23 February 2021, according to the latest overview of HPAI in Europe.

Greens and genes: The Greens have released a new report on gene editing, looking at the myths and realities of this technology, including a section on ownership and control of this technology, which concluded that the commercial development of the gene-editing tool CRISPR remains “tightly bound up in patents and licensing agreements,” a landscape which the report says is “already showing strong signs of agroindustry dominance”.

Young farmers stand against Mercosur: The next generation of EU farmers is concerned about the potential harmful outcomes emerging from the EU-Mercosur agreement for producers in the most sensitive sectors. In a statement released this week, CEJA president Samuel Masse said that “EU agriculture is a highly strategic sector already faced with many challenges” and that “as young farmers, we do not perceive how the agreement will contribute to the strategic autonomy put forward in the new EU trade strategy, nor how it will enable us to increase our competitiveness, get a fair income and thus enable our environmental and climate action.”

Warnings over agrifood trade: This week, a press conference organised by farmers association COPA-COGECA raised concerns that, between Brexit, the COVID-19 crisis and punitive tariffs from the US and Mercosur, “no sector is unscathed” and that this was a “difficult time” for the sector.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

ITALY
Italy is up in arms, trying to defend the world-famous balsamic vinegar of Modena from an attempt to ‘standardise’ its production made by Slovenia, and the European Commission appears to have until 3 March to settle the issue. Gerardo Fortuna has more. (EURACTIV.com)

UK
Environment secretary George Eustice has said farmers can face the future with confidence now that the UK has left the EU as many sectors continue to see strong market prices and the UK’s self-sufficiency in food production has increased for the first time since 2014. Speaking at the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) annual conference on Tuesday (23 February), he said while there were challenges in some areas, many farming sectors have seen a welcome boost to profitability, despite a challenging year due to the coronavirus pandemic. He also signalled plans to use powers in the agriculture act to strengthen the position of farmers in the supply chain and to bring transparency and fairness. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

GERMANY
On Tuesday (23 February), the German Animal Welfare Association (Deutscher Tierschutzbund) lambasted the country’s agriculture ministry (BMEL) for not yet presenting a feasibility study for the plans to restructure livestock farming, which were agreed back in August. However, after the BMEL postponed a Borchert Commission meeting to March, Deutscher Tierschutzbund’s president, Thomas Schröder accused agriculture minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) of wanting to delay the national transformation, adding it “was probably a mistake” that the Tierschutzbund believed that the BMEL seriously wanted to implement these changes in the first place. But the BMEL has insisted that this was not a delay. “This puts us well on schedule! There is no delay here,” the ministry told topagrar. Then it announced over the weekend (20 February) that it was “confident” that it would release the entire study in ten days. (Sarah Lawton |EURACTIV.de)

ROMANIA
Romanian farmers have protested this week in front of the agriculture ministry as the draft budget for 2021 does not include any compensation for drought-induced damages. The farming sector was hit hard by drought last season, and the ministry paid compensation for the damages to the autumn-sown crops. Agriculture minister Adrian Oros also promised reparations for the crops planted in spring. The total value will be higher than 1 billion lei (approximately €210 million), but the amount isn’t clearly specified in the draft of the budget law, which is currently being debated by the Parliament. The damages should have been reimbursed by December 2020, but minister Oros said they cannot be paid until the EU Commission gives the green light, as it is considered a form of state aid. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

FRANCE
The announcement of the city of Lyon’s mayor to introduce a meat-free menu in school canteens has caused heavy polemics throughout the country, causing an uproar amongst farmers, butchers and government officials who accuse the Greens of abusing their power for what they claim to be an elitist and ideological measure. “Let us stop to put ideology in the plates of our children”, the minister of Agriculture and Food, Julien Denormandie, stated on Twitter. The ministry of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, spoke of an “insult to farmers and butchers”. However, Barbara Pompili, minister of the Ecological transition, said that this was a “prehistorical debate” based on the “worn-down cliché” that vegetarian menus were an unbalanced diet. Beyond the actual issue of meat or no meat, the ongoing polemic has once more opened a clear rift in the French political landscape, bringing to light the old left-right divide that Emmanuel Macron’s government was supposed to bridge. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

POLAND
Poland’s export sales of agri-food products rose by 7% year on year, despite the pandemic. “The entire agri-food sector achieved a level of export of €34 billion (…) above €2 billion more than a year earlier”, said the agriculture minister Grzegorz Puda on Tuesday this week. The results were bolstered not only by positive sales but also by beneficial exchange rates of the Polish zloty to the euro and the US dollar. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)

SPAIN
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA) has prepared two royal decrees that would offer €7.2 million more for loans in 2021 for farmers, fishing entities or agri-food industries, according to EURACTIV’s partner EFEAgro.

Events
4 March – There is a EURACTIV Virtual Conference which will take a look at the practical implications of the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, including whether the Farm to Fork Strategy and the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) and is coherent.