June 23. 2024. 12:35

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Agrifood Brief: Fighting (sweet) tooth and nail


Germany’s Greens are caught between a rock candy and a hard place. They took over the agriculture ministry with the declared ambition to make diets healthier – but many in the country will fight (sweet) tooth and nail for their freedom to feast.

When the Green Cem Özdemir came into office as agriculture minister, his first step was to change his own title: from agriculture minister to minister for agriculture and food.

The tweak stood for a promise to take a holistic approach and make food chains in Germany healthier and more sustainable not only on the side of the farm but the side of the fork.

However – on the consumers’ end of the food chain, effective measures against treats have proven tricky, with even fairly mild steps faced with fierce opposition.

The most recent example came in the shape of plans to ban junk food ads for children.

Last week, Özdemir presented plans to prohibit marketing targeted at children and advertising food with too much fat, sugar, or salt in an effort to fight obesity and diseases linked to nutritional habits in children.

Such advertisements “have a proven impact on children’s and young people’s diets” he argued.

The fact that both the food and the advertising industry were geared up to get their sweet(s) revenge and push back against the proposal is hardly surprising. But beyond this, the public backlash was fierce, and a bitter public battle full of fuss and even fake news floating around ensued.

Scrolling through news reports and social media posts on the issue, one could have almost got the impression that the government is banning citizens from eating sweets or fries altogether.

Tabloid media spoke of “prohibition madness” and “rock-hard bans”, while conservative opposition politicians called into question why the minister wants to ban junk food ads but at the same time legalise cannabis.

The heated public debate culminated in an exchange of blows between Germany’s largest tabloid newspaper BILD, which excitedly claimed “even milk” would be included in the ad bans, and the ministry, which immediately responded by denying the report and publishing a list of FAQs on which foods and ads exactly would be concerned.

Ultimately, Özdemir’s push to ban junk food ads for children is likely to be inconsequential, since his liberal coalition partner FPD supports the status ‘dough’ and has already explicitly ruled out supporting the project.

But the public outcry around even the mention of the word “ban” in the context of food reveals an important conundrum that might well shatter the Greens’ sweet dreams.

To change diets and make them healthier, more plant-based, or more sustainable, sweet-talking consumers through nudges and encouragement will not be enough. Effective measures must also include regulatory law with binding rules and, yes, maybe even certain bans.

But, as seen in the case of Özdemir’s advertisement advance, this is an extremely unpopular option that risks costing votes.

This is especially true for the Greens, who have been struggling to shake off the image as a ‘prohibition party’ out to ban all fun from Germans’ lives ever since a campaign promise of one ‘veggie day’ per week in canteens sent them on a downwards spiral in the polls ahead of the 2017 election.

For key upcoming projects, like the dietary strategy set to be presented by the end of this year, how courageous Özdemir and the Greens are ready to be will be the make-or-bake question.

Will they prioritise buttering up voters and limit themselves to non-binding, toothless measures? Or will they take decisive steps – even if those might come back to bite them?

Either way: Get your popcorn – or your carrot sticks – ready and prepare for an exciting battle.

Agrifood Podcast: Tractor takeover, pest threat, baby shark

Agrifood Podcast: Tractor takeover, pest threat, baby shark

This week, EURACTIV’s Agrifood news team reports from a large-scale Flemish farmers’ protest in Brussels and Natasha Foote speaks with Sybren Vos, a team leader at the European Food Safety Agency’s plant health monitoring team, to learn more about the …

Agrifood stories this week

Member states push to exempt low-input livestock from law to cut emissions
Rearing of cattle or pigs in farms using extensive production systems should be exempted from the scope of the EU’s plans to slash industrial emissions, according to a leaked draft of the ministers’ general approach, which also proposes a stepwise approach for when the new rules should apply. Natasha Foote has the details.

Agri Commissioner admits data weakness in EU plans to slash emissions
EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski defended the European Commission’s ambition to slash emissions in livestock farming, despite acknowledging weaknesses in the data collection process used to put the proposal together. Natasha Foote has more.

Commission moves towards halting emergency use of all banned pesticides
The emergency use of all banned plant protection products in the EU could soon be a thing of the past, according to the European Commission’s initial reading of the recent EU court ruling involving specifically bee-toxic pesticides. Natasha Foote has the details.

Green(claims)washing: Ban climate-neutral food labels, says consumer group
Carbon neutral claims are misleading and confuse consumers, according to a new report from consumer group BEUC who call for the terms to be banned from food and drink products in the EU. Learn more.

Women in agriculture: choosing between child and cow
Prejudice, difficulties around pregnancy and childbirth, lack of financial security: German women in agriculture still face numerous obstacles when it comes to their work, according to a new study. Julia Dahm has more.

Stalemate over misreported catches persists in fisheries control revision
EU lawmakers seem closer to an agreement on the most significant overhaul of EU’s fisheries monitoring rules in a decade despite the Commission’s opposition to relaxing rules on misreporting fish catches. Paula Andrés brings you the latest on the negotiations.

Problem shared, halved: Bridging knowledge gaps via farming partnerships
Partnerships between countries adapting to the new realities of climate change and soil degradation are key to helping advance sustainable agriculture globally and bridge the knowledge gap, a soil scientist based in Burkina Faso told EURACTIV. Learn more.

Agri-bites

NGO taxonomy letter. A coalition of 25 environmental NGOs has sent a letter to the European Commission urging it not to produce a taxonomy delegated act on agriculture unless it closely follows the advice of its expert group. The coalition warns against an act that would ‘greenwash’ the industrial livestock sector which has “significant negative effects on the environment.”

‘Spirit’ of cooperation. A modernised agreement between the EU-Chile on wines and on spirits and aromatised wines entered into force this week, enhancing bilateral trade of these products playing a key role for agricultural trade for both parties. In total, 405 wine, 105 spirit drinks and 1 aromatised wine terms from the EU were added or modified through the update. Learn more.

State aid. The Commission approved €200 million Flemish scheme to compensate for the reduction or closure of pig production. The aim of the scheme is to reduce nitrogen emissions in the agricultural sector that result from pig production. It targets micro, small and medium-sized companies operating a pig breeding unit in Flanders. The aid will come as direct grants amounting to up to 120% of the losses.

Cover crops. Check out the first high-resolution map of cover crops across Europe, which combines satellite data with statistical surveys.

New protected names. “Dalmatinska janjetina” (PDO) – lamb of the Dalmatinska pramenka sheep breed from Croatia, “Azeitona Galega da Beira Baixa” (PGI) – olives obtained from the Galega variety from Portugal, “Cebolla de la Mancha” (PGI) – Spanish onions and “Grappa della Valle d’Aosta” (PGI) from Italy, were approved by the Commission this week.

Front to defend bottom trawling. Spanish and French agri ministers will build a front against the phasing-out of bottom trawling in marine protected areas recently announced by the Commission. The two countries will defend their positions during the next AGRIFISH Council meeting when the marine action plan will be discussed between ministers and the EU executive.

Deal for the high seas. Over the last weekend, United Nations member states struck a historic deal to protect international waters after almost 20 years of talks. The treaty will be crucial to enforce the pledge to protect a third of the sea by 2030 at December’s UN biodiversity conference (COP15). This means limiting fishing activities, shipping routes and exploration activities like deep-sea mining in international waters.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

FRANCE

France’s Carrefour to freeze food prices to help households with inflation. Europe’s largest food retailer Carrefour will block the prices of 200 products which will be sold at an average of €2 from mid-March to mid-June, the company’s CEO Alexandre Bompard told Journal du Dimanche on Sunday as food prices are reported to have increased by 14.5% in the past year. Read the full story. (Clara Bauer-Babef I EURACTIV.fr)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria pushes for equalisation of EU farm subsidies. The government will send an official request to the European institutions, insisting on the revision of the multiannual financial framework and the equalisation of EU subsidies for all agricultural producers, Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev announced on Wednesday. Find out more. (Krassen Nikolov I EURACTIV.bg)

ROMANIA

Dobogrea pie recognised as Romanian after years of tussling with Bulgaria. Romania acquired the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) label for its Dobrogea pie after almost two years of determined and sustained opposition from its neighbours. Read more. (Maria Smarandache I EURACTIV.ro)

CROATIA

Croatia to roll out scheme to monitor farm subsidy spending. The Croatian Agriculture Ministry on Monday unveiled its new system intended to more closely monitor how farmers spend approved farming subsidies without yet detailing the method or how frequent monitoring will be. Read the full story. (David Spaic-Kovacic I EURACTIV.hr)

UK

BELGIUM

Wallonia backpedals on free tap water in restaurants. The Walloon government has changed course on an earlier commitment to ensure the provision of free tap water in cafés and restaurants. In a 2019 statement, it had announced it would make free tap water obligatory – a move that was met with fierce opposition from the hospitality sector and the bottled water industry. Speaking to The Bulletin this week, economy minister Willy Borsus confirmed that the government does not have plans to take measures in this direction. “Free does not exist: someone always pays for it at some point,” he argued. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

ITALY

Nutri-score’s death? The Commission’s proposal for a new expiry date marking has been interpreted by Italian lawmakers and agri-food stakeholders as a confirmation that the Nutri-score labelling will not be discussed in this legislative mandate. The EU executive opted to propose the new criteria on ‘best before’ / ‘use by’ marking through a secondary law currently on the table of member states although it was originally expected to be included in the bigger nutritional labelling package. “This means that at the moment there is no intention to change the package of food information to consumers that include the front-of-pack labelling and health warnings,” commented socialist MEP Paolo De Castro. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN

Carbon farming on the rise. Farming techniques that help store carbon in the soil have grown in Spain over the last decade to occupy a combined total of more than 2.2 million hectares, the country’s agriculture ministry reported on Thursday (9 March). EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

STOCKHOLM

Swedish meat consumers must eat local, says agriculture minister. Meat consumers who care about the environment must choose Swedish meat, said Agriculture Minister Peter Kullgren, while Swedish experts believe the problem with meat lies elsewhere. Find out more. (Charles Szumski I EURACTIV.com)

BERLIN

More protection for eels. In view of the “critical state” of European eel populations, the German agriculture and fisheries ministry has put in place an eel fishing ban set to run from early September this year to March 2024. “Without better protection, the eel faces extinction – in view of the dramatically low stocks, it is high time to act,” state secretary Claudia Müller said in a statement. In December, EU ministers had decided to maintain glass eel fishing for 2023. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

GREECE

New agricultural net-metering framework. A new bill on Renewable Energy Sources (RES) aims to adjust national legislation to the recently adopted European legal framework for RES and the internal energy market. The bill was submitted for consultation by the Greek energy ministry. The changes it brings to agricultural energy net-metering have ramifications for farming: Currently, photovoltaic projects by farmers are becoming increasingly difficult, as in many areas the grid has been exhausted. According to the Panhellenic Association of Rural Photovoltaics, dozens of members have received rejections in recent months, even for very small net-metering projects, due to lack of grid. (Marianthi Pelekanaki| EURACTIV.gr)

PORTUGAL
Food prices in Portugal up nearly 30% in a year. The average price of essential foods in Portugal went up almost 30% since 2022, with Portugal’s food and safety body estimating that a food basket went from €74.90 at the start of 2022 to €96.44 today, the government announced Thursday. Read the full story. (Pedro Emídio I Lusa.pt)

Events

14-16 March | GMO analysis and new genomic techniques (Berlin)

16 March | MEPs will debate a European citizens’ initiative on phasing out synthetic pesticides and creating bee-friendly agriculture at the plenary session in Strasbourg

16 March | Environment Council