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Fertile ground for a ruckus – EURACTIV.com

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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.

2 – Antibiotic restrictions, Farm to Fork report, SOTEU

This week: EURACTIV’s agrifood team digs deeper into a controversial vote in the Parliament on the European Commission’s new delegated act designed to tackle anti-microbial resistance, we talk about Parliament’s preliminary approval of their report on the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, and we explore what Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had to say about the agrifood sector in her State of the Union speech.

Ready, set, go. Back from summer holidays, we are immediately in the middle of the first quarrel of the season, this time involving the thorny issues of liquid fertilisers.

Let’s face it, people in Brussels love to bicker.

Whether it is placing a winning amendment or an impactful communication campaign, almost everything new happening in town can be led back to a conflict between two or more factions.

A squabble is always lying in wait around the corner, arguably not helped by the fact that we reporters see feuds everywhere – maybe a hangover from what our ancestors, the chroniclers, used to cover the most.

The latest agrifood dispute in the EU bubble involves farmers and fertiliser producers, or at least the two EU associations representing the interests of the two sides.

The issue at revolves around fertilisers, the liquid ones in particular.

Although the Commission’s ambition is to reduce by 20% its use – including animal manure – by 2030, fertilisers remain a key input for farmers all across Europe.

However, there has been recently a spike in the price of fertilisers, caused not only by a growing world demand but also by geopolitical tensions.

For instance, the EU’s ban on imports and transit of potash from Belarus, the world’s top producer of this crop nutrient, has caused apprehension in farmers.

But for the EU’s farmers lobby COPA-COGECA, the Commission’s decision to implement an anti-dumping on fertilisers coming from the US, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago is another major source of the price increase.

According to COPA-COGECA, prices for liquid fertilisers (UAN) in Europe have doubled since the Commission adopted the measure and now they are asking the EU Executive to ‘dump’ the anti-dumping tax.

“We have the impression to be in front of a wall since we find ourselves with prices that are completely insane,” said French farmer Cédirc Benoist in a tweet published on COPA-COGECA’s account, adding that in this period the price of the UAN solution doubled compared to last year.

However, the measure put in place by the Commission was legit, according to the fertiliser manufacturers, as the industry has faced hardships caused by artificially cheap dumped products.

In a note, the lobby Fertilizers Europe wrote that an investigation by the European Commission’s investigation found hard evidence for dumping, resulting in 2019 in the introduction of the anti-dumping measure to preventing further injury to EU industry.

But for the fertiliser manufacturers, the reason behind the increased price this year is slightly different and more challenging.

Gas, which normally account for 60-80% of the industry’s operating costs, noted record high prices (+595% annual increase), while the gas price gap between the EU (US$15.49 mmBtu3) and its major competitor Russia, reached around US$12 mmBtu, Fertilizers Europe wrote in a note.

They added that this could create the proverbial perfect storm combined with record-high EU ETS allowance prices and the fact that most international competitors produce in countries where such carbon policies are not in place.

What we know is that Article 14(4) of the Basic Anti-dumping Regulation gives the Commission the possibility to suspend the application of anti-dumping measures under certain conditions.

That means that a suspension of measures can be done in case of temporary changes in market conditions, if it is in the Union’s interest and if it is unlikely that, as a result of the suspension, injury to the Union industry would resume.

Contacted by EURACTIV, an EU official said that the Commission is not in a position to comment on the existence of requests for suspension.

However, any demand for a suspension of measures must be substantiated by the applicant and will be examined in detail to ensure the conditions are met and backed up by sufficient evidence in order to proceed with such a request.

The bottom line is that if you want something, you only need to ask.

(G.F.)

Stories of the week

MEPs’ draft report on sustainable farming future sparks controversy
Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s agriculture and environmental committees have staked their preliminary position on the EU’s green farming ambitions, voting in favour of a draft report which includes a number of controversial amendments. Natasha Foote has more.

Greens wage battle against Commission over antimicrobials regulation
A new delegated act proposed by the European Commission to tackle anti-microbial resistance (AMR) has drawn harsh criticisms from the Green group in the European Parliament, who are calling for the use of antibiotics in animals to be restricted. Giedre Peseckyte reports.

Parliament sides with Commission to approve controversial new antimicrobials rules
Ultimately though, the European Parliament gave its green light to the controversial new antimicrobials regulation, dismissing the motion from the Greens and allowing the Commission to move forward on its plans to tackle anti-microbial resistance. EURACTIV’s agri-health team has more.

German supermarket chain REWE to remove most foreign pork from shelves
German supermarket chain REWE aims for 95% of its pork to be homegrown to help the sector struggling from disease and high feed prices, prompting the European Commission to warn that over-reliance on domestic supply could in some cases infringe the bloc’s competition rules. EURACTIV Germany’s Julia Dahm and Natasha Foote join forces to bring you more.

Upcoming election could shake up Germany’s stance on gene editing, CAP funding
As the campaign for Germany’s 26 September federal elections approaches crunch time, EURACTIV Germany took a look at what the elections could mean for key agricultural policy issues – from scrapping farmers’ direct payments to the use of new genomic techniques.

COVID highlights need for EU to regulate wildlife trafficking
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need to regulate the trade in live wild animals, who could carry viruses. In Europe, the lack of regulation on this subject represents a major health risk. Clara Bauer-Babef reports from EURACTIV France.

CAP Corner

CAP concerns: A group of French Green MEPs have written to the agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski to flag concerns over the Commission’s capacity to monitor CAP strategic plans. The letter criticises the French CAP plan, saying that it penalises organic farmers and asking whether the Commission can accept French strategic plan as it stands. 

News from the bubble

Gene modification: The World Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) gathered in Marseille at the beginning of the month approved a motion questioning the use of genetic modification for nature conservation. The IUCN members call for a global moratorium on genetically engineered organisms “designed to exterminate or permanently alter species, and could significantly alter ecosystems, with unforeseen and permanent threats to nature conservation, biodiversity, indigenous peoples and local communities,” a note the NGO SavetheSeed says. The resolution led to tough negotiations causing a division between civil society groups, as some of them argued for synthetic biology to be accepted as a tool for nature conservation. For instance, the IUCN member Island Conservation advocated using genetic modification to eradicate invasive mice species on islands.

Plant based: A group of 50 NGOs have joined forces to call on the EU Commission to stop giving out millions for meat and dairy adverts and instead focus on promoting plant based foods. In a joint letter, the associations point out that a large majority of European citizens (79%) agree that “marketing and advertising that do not contribute to healthy, sustainable diets should be restricted” and that they are willing to cut back on (red) meat, but face challenges in doing so. This “indicates that the responsibility should not be shifted completely to the consumer,” the letter concludes, calling on the Commission needs to create “systemic changes which support consumers in making healthy and sustainable diet choices”. This can only be achieved if the Commission decides to stop the promotion of meat and dairy and instead shifts the promotion to plant-based foods, the letter contends.

Vegan definition: EuroCommerce, the principal European organisation representing retail and wholesale, has signed a joint statement with the European Vegetarian Union (EVU) and FoodDrinkEurope asking the European Commission to issue definitions for voluntary vegan and vegetarian food labelling. To date, there is no legally binding definition of the terms “food suitable for vegans” and “food suitable for vegetarians” for food labelling purposes.

G20: Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, is in Florence, Italy, to attend the Open Forum on Sustainable Agriculture this week, where he is set to deliver several keynote speeches. The Agriculture Ministers’ meeting will focused on the sustainability of agricultural and food systems addressing five themes: How to combine the three dimensions of sustainability in food systems, sustainable agriculture in times of global health emergency, Research as a driving force behind sustainability, working together to achieve the Zero Hunger goal, and the G20 Contribution to the upcoming UNFSS and COP 26. The official adoption of the G20 Agriculture ministers’ declaration will take place on 18 September.

EU-US relations: During his time in Florence, EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski engaged in a number of bilateral discussions, including with his US counterpart Thomas Vilsack. According to a tweet from the Commissioner, the two spoke about working out “concrete areas of moving forward together on global sustainability commitments and promoting best practices among farmers”. “Our bilateral relationship and the strong partnership that the EU and the US are building up to face key global challenges such as climate change and sustainability,” he said ,adding that the two have “common understanding on a very large number of views and we work in close cooperation to achieve concrete results”. See here for an overview of their programme.

Industry commitments: The European Poultry Meat Sector committed to develop a ‘sustainability charter’, due to be published at the start of 2022, in efforts to demonstrate that the sector is part of the solution in the fight against climate change by developing concrete solutions to improve the sustainability of the sector. Learn more here

News from the Capitals

FRANCE
As recurring weather extremes have lately proven the limits of the current insurance system for French farmers, French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to reform the scheme. In an announcement judged as “historic” by French farmers’ associations, the French president promised a yearly 600 million euros of State aid to be injected in the new insurance scheme, starting from 2023. Currently, due to the high costs of crop insurance, only about 30 % of French farmers are covered for agricultural disasters, with numbers even lower for certain sectors, like arboriculture (6 %) and livestock farming (1 %). In the face of climate change, this situation is no longer viable, Macron said, promising greater national solidarity and a more rapid and efficient crop insurance system. Read more. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

ITALY
Rome is readying itself for battle over Croatia’s request to get EU protection for its Prošek, a sweet dessert wine produced in Dalmatia, whose name is similar to that of Italy’s famous sparkling wine, prosecco, the agriculture minister has said. EURACTIV Italy has more. 

BULGARIA
A delegation of the European Parliament’s committee of inquiry on the protection of animals during transport (ANIT), led by Green MEP Tilly Metz, will visit Bulgaria on 20-22 September 2021. Nine MEPs will meet the minister of agriculture, officials and Bulgaria‘s veterinary experts to discuss the implementation of current EU rules on protections of animals during transport and possible ways to improve it. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

GERMANY
Due to the tense situation on the German pig market, agricultural minister Julia Klöckner convened an emergency meeting with industry representatives on Wednesday (15 September). According to her ministry, Klöckner has also sent a letter to EU agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski to “explain the gravity of the situation and ask him to consider short-term crisis measures”. The export-oriented German pig market has been under pressure as outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) in several regions have dampened foreign demand for German pig meat. Ahead of the meeting, the agricultural ministry stressed that it had already put in place a number of measures to support producers and combat the disease. However, the German Farmers Association (DBV) criticised that not enough is being done. “That the federal government and the regions try to shift the responsibility for combating ASF instead of working together is unacceptable,” the organisation’s Hubertus Beringmeier said. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)

UK
England’s Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have launched a snap inquiry into the impacts of factors such as Brexit, COVID-19, and rising commodity prices on the food supply chain, Poultry News reported this week. The cross-party group of MPs is calling for evidence on the factors contributing to reports of shortages of food products and workers in key sectors, a steep decline in food exports to the EU, and the possibility of food price inflation ahead. Chair of the EFRA Committee, MP Neil Parish, said: “The end of the Brexit transition period and the ongoing pandemic have made 2021 a difficult year for the food supply industry,” pointing to shortages and adding a warning over the implementation of new import checks. “The Government risks sleepwalking into a perfect storm if it fails to listen to the warning calls of supply chain professionals,” he warned.

POLAND
The value of Polish exports of agri-food products in 2019 amounted to $37.5 billion, ranking it 15th in the world, reports the Polish Economic Institute (PIE). Poland accounts for 2.1% of global and 5.9% of EU exports in this area. Those working in agriculture still constitute an important professional group – about 10% of all employed compared to less than 3% in the EU. In the last two decades, the situation of farmers has gradually improved thanks to, among other things, the inflow of EU money. Between 2004 and 2020, the disposable income of agricultural households increased in nominal terms by 3.4 times. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)

IRELAND
Ireland is moving to clamp down on ‘armchair’ farmers – farmers that take subsidies but are not actively farming – in efforts to ensure only genuine farmers benefit from CAP payments after the current CAP programme ends in 2022, according to the Independent, who reports that the department of agriculture is considering a ‘use them or lose them’ approach for farmers. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

DENMARK
Denmark has become the ninth country to reach the signature threshold for the European citizens’ initative (ECI) ‘Save Bees and Farmers’, which calls for a phase out of synthetic pesicides. The iniative is currently just shy of 800,000 signatures. One million signatures from seven member states are required for the ECI to move forward. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

LATVIA
The European Commission has approved a €1.8 million Latvian scheme to support farmers active in the cattle-breeding sector affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The measure aims at mitigating the liquidity shortages that the beneficiaries are facing and at addressing part of the losses they incurred due to the coronavirus outbreak and the restrictive measures that the Latvian government had to implement to limit the spread of the virus. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

Upcoming events

21 September | Exporting food products to China

22 September | The road to COP26: Beef and climate change

22 September | European Rural Entrepreneurship Voices Forum

23-24 September | Politico’s Future of Food & Farming Summit 2021

23 September | UN Food Systems Summit

23 September | Civil society meeting on trade policy with Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis





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