Politics

Gene-ie in a bottle  – EURACTIV.com


GMOs have been known to rub the German Greens the wrong way. But as the party is entering into a three-way coalition government and pragmatists are gaining ground, its opposition to all things gene-editing is becoming a little less clear-cut.

Traditionally, a fierce anti-GMO stance has been part of the Green party’s DNA since its founding period in the 1980s.

With the party now set to form part of a new government coalition and appoint the agricultural minister, one might have expected this to lead to a U-turn in Germany’s stance on the issue – outgoing conservative agricultural minister Julia Klöckner had always advocated for the use of new genomic techniques (NGTs).

The issue, however, turns out to be more muddled as the party’s relationship with NGTs is turning into a bit of a “will they, won’t they”-type situation.

Earlier this year, some dissenting voices started to emerge within the party.

But the party is not so quick to pull the (magic) carpet out from under their long-held stance.

Just in time for the election campaign launch, the party managed to shut down internal debates on the issue and included a paragraph in their manifesto that called for Germany to opt-out of any potential liberalisation of NGTs on the EU side.

But then another spanner in the works – the liberal and aggressively tech-friendly FPD, one of the Greens’ coalition partners in the upcoming “traffic light” coalition.

What the parties agreed on in the coalition agreement regarding gene editing might be called a compromise – or a cop-out.

The paper reads that the new government will “ensure transparency on new breeding techniques” and strengthen risk assessment research. But it does not mention whether the traffic light will condone the use of NGTs or not.

Put simply – we can smell some trouble from (j)afar.

And Germany’s stance on the matter might become crucial given that the creation of a new coalition lands at a magic moment for gene editing, which is gaining ground in the EU.

This Commission is currently reviewing the EU’s rules on technology after the publication of a recent study on NGTs, which concluded that the EU’s current legal framework on GMOs is insufficient.

And the Commission seems increasingly in favour of the technology, with Vice President Frans Timmermans being the latest to add his voice to the growing list of those in the EU executive that back the technology.

In other words – we can guess what it would be if the Commission were granted a wish because it seems the executive is increasingly counting on the technology to be part of its efforts to keep one jump ahead of the breadline.

The question is – could Germany tip the balance?

And, another question – with a lack of commitment in the coalition agreement, how will Germany’s new agriculture minister position himself on NGT regulation?

It might be worth keeping in mind that Cem Özdemir is a Green but is well-known for being a pragmatist. His goal as a minister is to “build bridges” between different camps.

Based on the coalition agreement, it seems very possible that this conciliatory attitude will extend to the gene-editing debate, which could open up a whole new world of possibilities.

By Julia Dahm and Natasha Foote [Edited by Alice Taylor]

 


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Agrifood Podcast

Live transport, gene editing, eco-schemes

This week, EURACTIV takes a look at the outcome of the vote on a report on live transport of animals, we explore the Commission’s increasingly favorable stance to gene editing.

This week, EURACTIV takes a look at the outcome of the vote on a report on live transport of animals, we explore the Commission’s increasingly favourable stance to gene editing and we take a look at a new NGO report which flags concerns over the level of ambition in member states’ eco-schemes with the help of BirdLife Europe’s Honey Kohan.

Agrifood news this week

CAP eco-schemes: Not all that glitters is gold, warn NGOs
Fewer than a fifth of eco-schemes, designed to reward environmentally-minded farmers in the EU, are likely to deliver on their stated environmental objectives according to a new report by prominent European NGOs which analyses member states’ green plans for the agricultural sector. Natasha Foote has more.

EU lawmakers call for tougher rules on live animal transport
Rules on the duration and conditions for animal transports need to become stricter, said MEPs on a Parliament special committee after having found numerous breaches of existing animal welfare rules. Julia Dahm reports.

Timmermans: Gene editing ‘clear part’ of sustainability action in agrifood
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans added his voice to the growing list of those in the EU executive advocating for gene editing, a move condemned by campaigners who accuse the Commission of already making their mind up on the technology. Natasha Foote has the story.

German Greens’ pick for agri minister is a prominent pragmatist, but farming newbie
Germany’s designated agriculture minister, Cem Özdemir, has no previous experience to show in the field. But, as long-term Green party chief, he says he has learned how to “build bridges”, and as a former MEP, he is no stranger to European politics. Julia Dahm profiles the new German minister in this EURACTIV article. 

Research centres act as ‘matchmakers’ to modernise Spanish agriculture
From matching farms with tech start-ups to pairing vegetable producers with school canteens and families, new EU research programmes are playing matchmaker to spur innovation and reinforce agriculture modernisation in Spain. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro reports.

CAP corner

Another adoption: The Council formally adopted the 2023-2027 CAP reform this week, saying it paves the way for a “fairer, greener and more performance-based CAP”. Learn more.

How well do you know the CAP? Whether you are an expert in the field or not, EURACTIV brings you the ultimate quiz to test your knowledge of European agriculture.

News from the bubble 

Land prices: There is a huge variation in agricultural land prices across the EU, according to a new report from Eurostat, which found that the Netherlands recorded the highest purchase price for one hectare of arable land in the EU (on average €69,632 in 2019), while arable land was cheapest in Croatia (with a hectare costing an average €3,440 in 2020). Learn more.

Money, money: The European Commission has adopted a regulation allowing member states to reimburse €686 million to European farmers after funds deducted from farmers’ direct payments under the common agricultural policy (CAP) to finance the agricultural crisis reserve and for other reserve purposes remained unused. The money shall therefore be reimbursed to farmers by member states as from 1 December 2021.

Dodgy dealings? Asked about an undeclared meeting between Johannes Hahn and the European Landowners’ Organisation lobby, the European Commission has said that there is been “no violation” according to French media Libération. The reason given is that this it was a private meeting, and not an “event organised to discuss European policies”.

International Compost Alliance: Compost organisations from around the world have announced the establishment of the International Compost Alliance, a voluntary partnership to advance awareness and understanding of the benefits and use of compost on a global scale. The Alliance looks to offer positive solutions for climate change mitigation, soil health and food security, building on years of working collaboration between organics recycling organisations.

Cellular Agriculture Europe: A newly established association representing the cellular agriculture industry in Europe was launched this week, holding its first General Assembly meeting. In a press release, the new association said that its members are making the “same foods Europeans love in a new way”. Check out this EURACTIV article for more background on cultured meat.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

ITALY
The anti-NutriScore diplomacy continues.
A new European initiative to protect the Mediterranean diet will be launched in January, Italy’s agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli announced after a video call with his Spanish counterpart Luis Planas. “It will be open to the participation of nutritionists, scientists and experts in the agri-food sector, who will contribute to the technical assessment and valorisation of what has been considered an intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO,” he added. The initiative is intended to be another move in the anti-NutriScore diplomacy that Italy has recently set up. Learn more. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

SLOVAKIA
The strategic plan is a step forward for Slovak nature, activists say.
Slovakia could set an example of how greater flexibility for the member states to design their CAP Strategic Plans can ensure higher levels of climate and environmental ambition of agricultural policy, according to NGOs. “For the first time since our accession to the EU, we can say that the intervention strategy takes sufficient account of the fact that the common agricultural policy affects not only the agricultural sector but also the landscape, nature, endangered species and water retention capacity,” Jozef Ridzoň from SOS/Birdlife Slovakia told EURACTIV Slovakia. The environmentalists are mainly satisfied with the current setting of the eco-schemes. Farmers who want to capitalise on the new ecological payments will have to reduce the area of monoculture fields to 50 hectares (20 hectares in protected areas), set aside larger areas for non-productive elements, such as biozones, or do special activities for soil health. “If the proposed intervention strategy really becomes a reality, it will be a step forward that we need to take a very long time in protecting the natural values of the agricultural landscape,“ Ridzoň said. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)

CROATIA
New CAP to help domestic agriculture, medium-sized and large companies. Croatian agriculture has set itself an ambitious goal of producing 30 billion kunas (€4 billion) worth of healthy and quality food by 2030, compared to the current 20 billion kunas (€2,66 billion) and European funding will have a significant role in achieving this goal, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK) announced. Croatian farmers will have nearly 700 million kunas (€ 93,3 million) per year at their disposal for implementing the measures from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the new programming period. However, Dragan Kovačević, HGK vice-president for agriculture and tourism, warned that a huge amount of funds had been injected into domestic agriculture so far, but the country is not yet self-sufficient in most of the agricultural production. “Our productivity in agriculture is at 31% and in the food processing industry at 51% of the EU average,” he pointed out. As such, he welcomed the news that part of EU funding could be taken advantage of by large companies, which were previously not eligible. “Our members, medium-sized and large companies, expect that the highest amount of money for the new programming period will end up in investment measures and that the €100,000 limit on subsidies will be resolved in favour of our large producers through redistributed payments,” Kovačević said. (Željko Trkanjec, Euractiv.hr)

GERMANY
New German government will promote digital technologies for plant breeding and protection.
All three parties set to form the country’s new government coalition “agree that, if we want to limit pesticide use, we need to provide farmers with means to do this,” Green parliamentarian Harald Ebner, who helped negotiate the farming chapter of the coalition agreement, said on Monday (29 November). Digital tools like precision farming could be used to maintain productivity while cutting down on pesticides, he added. According to the coalition agreement, the new government will promote “digital tools and modern technology for more precise application” to reduce pesticide use. From Ebner’s perspective, digital technologies could also be an alternative to genomic techniques in plant breeding, for example through so-called “crowd breeding” projects. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.DE)

FRANCE
Environmental health should be “at the heart” of French EU Council presidency, NGOs declare.
With less than one month to go before the French Presidency of the EU Council gets underway on January 1st 2022, several NGOs have renewed their demands for a Union-wide pesticide phase-out, inviting the French government to make strong commitments to this goal during its EU leadership. Demands include a commitment to cut the use of synthetic pesticides by half and to “eliminate” the ones most dangerous for human health, as well as a strict application of the “polluter-pays” principle to agrochemical industries. Reacting to these demands, French farmers’ syndicate FNSEA is calling for “pragmatism”, stressing that instead of adding new constraints for farmers, France should push for more investments into research and innovation in order to offer farmers the necessary substitutes for synthetic pesticides. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.FR)

NETHERLANDS
Fertiliser production resumes in Netherlands. Fertiliser company Yara has restarted some of its Dutch production capacity following maintenance, while other plants remain shut amid a surge in the cost of natural gas, a key ingredient, the company’s chief executive told Farming Independent  this week. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
A positive step in US-Ireland agritrade.
The US has taken an important step towards opening access for European mutton and lamb lifting a decades’ long ban on sheepmeat exports from the EU, something that Irish agriculture minister Charlie McConalogue said represented “the removal of a major impediment” to Irish access to the US market. “This development is very significant and paves the way for full market access for Irish sheepmeat,” he said. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN
Protests resume across the country.
The agricultural organisations Asaja, COAG and UPA have announced that they have decided to resume the mobilisations throughout Spain in protest at the profitability crisis that many farms are going through. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more. 

GREECE
European Green Deal to cost the agri sector €1.7 billion. The Hellenic Crop Protection Association (HCPA) published a report this week on the impact of the Commission’s new sustainable development framework. Among others, the research showed an increase in costs of crop production, including a 300% increase in vineyards and 250% in cotton production costs, with total losses estimated to reach the amount of €1.7 billion. It is also pointed out that the withdrawal of plant protection products from the EU “does not imply their abolition by the rest of the world” which means that the competitiveness of European and national products vis-à-vis those from third countries will be reduced. “This becomes very important if the crops that will be most affected are identified, which are typically Greek or Mediterranean crops,” the report points out. (Georgia Evangelia Karagianni| EURACTIV.gr)

POLAND
A farmer’s salary in Poland is one of the lowest in the European Union, studies say.
Warsaw Enterprise Institute has published a new report which studies the greatest weaknesses and challenges facing the Polish agricultural sector. The main conclusions of the report is a slowdown in the development of Polish agriculture. Almost 1.2 million farms operating in Poland (nearly 90% of the total number of farmers and 40% of the total land used) do not provide income that meets the needs of families, while ow-paid own labour reduces the competitiveness of the processing sector, the report found. As a result, the Polish agricultural economy is not ready to compete not only with the western, but also the eastern markets. (Kamila Wilczyńska | EURACTIV.pl)

Events

5 December | World Soil Day

6 December | Breeders Talk Green webinar – What’s next in Animal Breeding?

6 December | Between farm and fork: the role of innovative ingredients and food technology in achieving Farm to Fork objectives

7 December | The European Green Deal – How does it impact EU food and drink SMES?

9-10 December | Agricultural Outlook Conference

10 December | FarmEurope will hold an event on agricultural climate insurance




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