Politics

Agrifood Brief: SURprise, surprise – EURACTIV.com


After weeks of teasing, the EU executive finally unveiled its long-awaited plan to revise the bloc’s plant protection product framework last week – but its presentation left more questions than answers.

The sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) is designed to pave the way toward the bloc’s ambitions to slash in half the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030, as set out in the Green Deal’s food chapter, known as the Farm to Fork strategy.

While this might all sound good on paper, translating this into the fields will be a costly endeavour.

Where is this money coming from? Don’t worry – it’s all from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), according to EU Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

“All the obligations we propose will be covered by the CAP. All, without exception,” the Commissioner stressed during the presentation of the proposal to the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) meeting on Thursday.

The EU’s farming subsidy programme provides a “wide range of tools” to support farmers in this transition, she contended. Specifically, member states will set out how they will use the funding available in their CAP national strategic plans, she said.

As a reminder, through these plans, member states are supposed to set out their individualised action plans for how they will achieve the nine EU-wide goals of this CAP reform.

The thing is, these plans have already been drafted and sent to the Commission for approval back in January – aka, some five months before the SUR proposal.

You might be wondering how EU countries were supposed to know to include this in their proposals?

Thanks to good sense (and a magic crystal ball), according to Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans.

“You probably need to live on another planet if you see this coming as a surprise because this has been so widely consulted,” he told a press conference last week when asked about it.

“Everybody knew this was coming. Not perhaps the precise figures and numbers that we’ve decided now, but the direction was very clear,”

Now, apart from the fact that those numbers and precise figures make all the difference, an amendment of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to support the transition toward reducing pesticide use was most definitely not something that was expected.

This unprecedented change to the EU’s farming subsidies programme is procedural rather than substantial. Essentially, the CAP cannot be disbursed for obligatory requirements such as the ones set in the regulation for pesticide reduction (SUR), as an EU official explained.

The amendment will make the funding of agricultural practices that reduces pesticide use part of the CAP conditionality for five years so that can fund these actions.

The change is included in the SUR legal text, meaning it will enter into force when the SUR is approved – so it will highly likely continue in the post-2027 CAP programme.

From a practical perspective though, this amendment will not add any fresh money. This means the costs of the new pesticide requirements for farmers will be covered with the same budget allocated last year for the CAP.

But that’s not the only thing that doesn’t add up in this equation.

Pesticides are squarely in DG SANTE’s domain, so it makes sense that the SUR is fully under their watch.

But it is still not clear who will govern the procedure of amending the CAP, which is firmly DG AGRI territory. And it is highly likely that the relevant European Parliamentary committee to scrutinise this part of the dossier will be the environment, rather than the agriculture, committee.

And despite the bloc’s pesticide ambitions hanging on the EU farming subsidy, there was no representative of DG AGRI in sight during the presentation of the SUR.

This might explain the panicked pass from Kyriakides on answering a question from EURACTIV on the details of how this would play out on the CAP in practice, and a hurried defence from Timmermans.

But if they can’t answer these basic questions, why they did not invite the EU’s agri boss to the (sustainable) party?

We expressed our bewilderment in a tweet asking why EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski was not there. And it seems we aren’t the only ones wondering, as Wojciechowski himself retweeted our doubts.

It’s safe to say this move came as something of a SURprise – and how it will play out in practice is yet to be seen.

By Gerardo Fortuna and Natasha Foote

Agrifood Podcast: Pesticide unveiling, G7 menu, Indian mangoes

Agrifood Podcast: Pesticide unveiling, G7 menu, Indian mangoes

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team discusses the much-awaited unveiling of the EU’s new pesticide framework and what we expect to be discussed on food security by the G7 leaders gathered in Schloss Elmau, Bavaria. For the flavour of the week, …

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood team discusses the much-awaited unveiling of the EU’s new pesticide framework and what we expect to be discussed on food security by the G7 leaders gathered in Schloss Elmau, Bavaria. For the flavour of the week, we tasted the diversity of mangoes grown in India and spoke to Smita Sirohi, advisor for agriculture and marine products at the Indian Embassy in Brussels, about the importance of this fruit for the country’s agriculture production and how geographical indications bring value to it.

Agrifood stories this week

WOAH chief: Protecting environment key to ensuring human, animal health
The COVID-19 crisis has shown there is no way to ensure human and animal health without broader consideration of environmental health, Monique Eloit, director-general of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), told EURACTIV in an interview.

Wheat prices to jump by a third if Russian exports halve, warn OECD, UN
Wheat prices are set to skyrocket by 34% in the event that exports from Russia are halved, and will rise by 19% if exports from Ukraine are cut completely, according to the latest predictions from the world’s major food and development organisations. Natasha Foote has more.

Commission defends ‘humans only’ antimicrobials list saved by MEP
The European Commission’s list of antimicrobials to be reserved for human use only is based on sound scientific evidence, an EU official stressed after EU lawmakers dropped their objection to the act implementing it. Julia Dahm has more.

EU auditors urge Commission to move into digital age on agri data collection
The European Commission continues to manually process agricultural data on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on Excel spreadsheets, a new report from the EU Court of Auditors said, calling on the EU executive to move into the digital age. Natasha Foote has the details.

Germany’s nutrition strategy in-the-making needs more fleshing out
A virtual meeting between German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir and the country’s associations kick-started the development of a sustainable and healthy nutrition strategy, though expectations differ widely on the details. Julia Dahm has more.

G7 countries pledge extra billions to fight global food crisis
The G7 countries want to mobilise an additional €4.3 billion to counter the global food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, they said in a statement issued at the end of a summit in Germany on Tuesday (28 June). Learn more.

Ukraine’s corner

MEPs: More support needed for grain export at Polish-Ukrainian border. As issues with Ukraine’s grain exports persist, MEPs asked the Commission to grant financial support and insurance guarantees for the leasing of logistical equipment and staff in a letter obtained by EURACTIV. Yaroslava Bukhta has more.

How to export grain from Ukraine amid seaport blockade. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of the country’s seaports has forced one of the world’s key grain exporters to look for new routes to export its products. EURACTIV explores the options on the table in this infographic.

Black Sea grain exports without NATO. NATO does not believe that the deployment of its military capabilities will help resolve the situation regarding the corridors for the export of Ukrainian grain to the Black Sea, according to Mircea Geoană, NATO deputy secretary-general. If there are corridors for exports organised, Russia will be their co-organiser as a player on this stage, he added.

CAP corner

In case you missed it: Be sure to rewatch this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to find out about the challenges faced by the new CAP in achieving food security and Green Deal ambitions. Check it out here.

MEPs slam Commission for delaying CAP sustainability requirements. MEPs from the European Parliament’s agriculture committee have sent an open letter this week criticising the Commission for extending temporary derogations of 2022 into a second year. You can find the letter here.

Agri-bites

EU-NZ seals a free trade deal. This week saw the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and New Zealand – but not everyone was celebrating. The EU farmer’s association COPA-COPGECA warned that “painful compromises have been made on sensitive sectors”. “This will increase our structural negative trade balance (roughly €750 million in 2021) on agriculture, in a period where we are struggling to continue investing on sustainability,” a statement from the association read. Of particular concern is the dairy sector, with the EU dairy association (EDA) warning the deal gives a “unilateral advantage” to the NZ dairy industry and pushes the EU concessions to the absolute limit. “We will now have to prepare for the new tougher market conditions,” EDA President Giuseppe Ambrosi said in a statement. 

WFP delivers warning to agri MEPs: World Food Programme chief David Beasley warned MEPs on Thursday (30 June) that inaction over Ukraine will have “catastrophic consequences that will have a ripple effect on global commodities and food security around the world”. “If we don’t reach those 50 million [vulnerable] people immediately, you will have famine, you will have destabilisation of nations and you will have mass migration by necessity,” he stressed.

‘The time is up for chemical pesticides’, says Food Safety Commissioner. Presenting the Commission’s sustainable use of pesticides regulation proposal to MEPs in the European Parliament’s environment committee on Thursday (30 June), Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stressed that the “time is up for chemical pesticides”, pointing to widespread civil support for such a move. “From European Citizen Initiatives to the recent Conference for the Future of Europe: citizens have been loud and clear. They want fewer pesticides. They want a different food system. One that works with nature, not against it,” she argued, calling on the European Parliament to work with the EU executive to maintain the level of ambition in this proposal during the negotiations in the months ahead.

Will Greece’s feta war crumble? The verdict of the legal case of the European Commission and Greece case against Denmark over its marketing of ‘feta’ cheese is due at the European Court of Justice on 14 July. Greece contends that feta cheese is a protected foodstuff and thus cannot be made out of the country. Meanwhile, Denmark says that as it is for sale in non-EU countries, it doesn’t apply. See here for background.

Energy Council has its say on forests, nature restoration, due diligence. Discussions in the Energy and Environment Council this week in Luxembourg yielded agreements on a series of important files for the agriculture sector, including the Nature Restoration package and the Forest Strategy for 2030. The Council also agreed to set mandatory due diligence rules for all operators and traders who place, make available or export the following products from the EU market: palm oil, beef, timber, coffee, cocoa and soy. The rules also apply to a number of derived products such as leather, chocolate and furniture. 

New GMO in town. This week, the Commission authorised a new genetically modified maize for food and feed. This authorisation decision does not concern the cultivation of this maize in the EU, but only its use for food and feed. According to a statement published following the decision, the genetically modified maize has undergone a “full and rigorous authorisation procedure which ensures a high level of protection of human and animal health and the environment”. 

Agrifood news from the CAPitals 

GERMANY

Organic farming on the rise. 911 farms in Germany decided to switch from conventional to organic farming in 2021, according to new structural data published by the agriculture ministry. Nevertheless, with a current share of 10.9% of agricultural area farmed organically, the country is still far from the 30% target the government has set for 2030, and even from the 25% target set on an EU level by the Farm to Fork Strategy. To speed up the trend toward organic farming, the ministry is currently working on an organic farming strategy. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

AUSTRIA

Austria earmarks EU funds to support fruit and vegetable producers. Agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig has earmarked €9 million from EU adjustment assistance funds for Austrian fruit and vegetable producers. Totschnig, who announced the measure on Thursday, added the funds are set to be disbursed in late September. According to the minister, the extra funds are meant to help farmers cope with recent spikes in production costs. “Especially in the areas of fruit and vegetable production and horticulture, our producers are faced with high costs for maintaining their greenhouses,” he stressed. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE

French government announces €100 food voucher for low-income households. The government in Paris has announced an “emergency food aid” of €100 per household and €50 per child in the face of food price spikes, according to government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire. Read the full story here. (Théo Bourgery I EURACTIV.fr)

LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg’s grain production hit hard by drought. Grain production in the Grand Duchy remains “significantly impacted” by the spring drought, agriculture minister Claude Haagen said in his response to a parliamentary question. Moreover, the heatwave seen in mid-June “risks worsening the impact of the heat on crops,” he added. To better cope with extreme weather, Haagen called on all farmers to take out relevant insurances. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

SPAIN

Government adjusts Spanish CAP plan to boost oilseed production. The government has introduced adjustments to Spain’s Strategic Plan for the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, including allocating €45 million to basic income support for the regions where sunflower and rapeseed are produced, as well as more than 27.5 million to struggling olive groves. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

IRELAND
€56 million to support Irish agriculture. The European Commission has approved a €56 million Irish scheme to support the agricultural sector, in particular fodder producers, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The aid will take the form of direct grants.

CZECHIA

Czech agrifood associations awarded EU funds without tenders, auditors say. Czechia’s Supreme Audit Office found “serious errors” in EU co-financed programmes aiming to promote agricultural products and foodstuffs under the tenure of the former government led by agri-tycoon Andrej Babiš. Find out more here. (Aneta Zachová I EURACTIV.cz)

GREECE

Athens ramps up support for livestock farmers. More livestock farmers in Greece will receive a 2% government subsidy on the purchase of animal feed, due to an amendment to a joint ministerial decision by the agriculture and finance ministers. The change to the decision, which had originally been issued in April, is meant to provide additional support to livestock farmers and additionally make the calculation of the subsidies more favourable to young farmers. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

ALBANIA

Albania’s struggling agricultural sector “full of potential.” Albania, whose dairy sector is struggling with rising costs and decreasing livestock heads, has untapped potential in its agricultural production sector, particularly that of tomatoes which could be a source of significant income for farmers, according to a report by the World Bank. Read more here. (Alice Taylor I exit.al)

Events

4 July | European Parliament health committee meeting (ENVI)

4 July | EU Council Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA)

4 July | European Court of Auditors presents a report on CAP anti-fraud measures

4-7 July | European Parliament plenary

5 July | Use of innovative technologies for agricultural early warning systems

5 – 8 July | Worldwide perspectives on Geographical Indications

6 July | Food Security – Do open markets work?

6 – 7 July | Extracurricular conference of Germany’s federal and regional agriculture ministers




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