EU reviews sustainable food plans as war in Ukraine disrupts imports

The EU is reviewing the bloc’s sustainable food strategy after a concerted push against the planned reforms by national governments, farmers and agribusiness.

Brussels agreed two years ago to reform its farming practices to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a drop in grain and fertilizer exports from those countries, raising concerns about food security.

The bloc’s agriculture ministers are meeting on Monday to discuss both short-term measures to mitigate the risk of shortages and price hikes, as well as possible changes Farm to Fork sustainable nutrition strategy.

“We want to ensure that our public policy goals are aligned with the need for food security. . . and sovereignty,” said an EU diplomat.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the Sustainable Food Strategy was “based on a world before the war in Ukraine” and should be reviewed.

The plans would result in a 13 percent drop in food production, he said on Friday. Macron needs the votes of the country’s powerful farming lobby in next month’s elections, but similar concerns are being raised in other member states such as Spain and Italy.

The conflict has sent the price of wheat, and corn other staples on the rise. The EU gets half of its corn from Ukraine and a third of its fertilizer from Russia. Fertilizer prices rose 170 percent last year because of high gas prices.

According to the latest estimates by the European Commission, the EU is likely to face price increases but not shortages.

The €58 billion-a-year Common Agricultural Policy, which still consumes more than a third of the bloc’s annual budget, has enabled the EU to become a net food exporter. In recent years, production-linked subsidies have been reduced and switched to payments for environmental measures. Pesticide use has declined as more substances have been banned.

Fully decouple subsidies from production to help comply with EU regulations Net Zero Emission Commitments was deemed too controversial, which is why the Commission adopted a set of targets for 2030 as part of its Farm to Fork strategy. they include Reduction of fertilizer use by a fifthto halve the use of antibiotics and to increase the organically farmed area from 9 percent to 25 percent.

The Sustainable Use Pesticides Directive, which aimed to halve their use and increase food prices, was due to be passed this week but has now been delayed, officials said.

Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers’ lobby group, has sent a list of demands to Janusz Wojciechowski, the European Commissioner for Agriculture. “It needs a paradigm shift. . . starting with the goals, objectives and timeline of the farm-to-fork strategy,” it said, emphasizing the bloc’s need for “strategic autonomy.”

She wants to increase the import of fertilizers, the use of pesticides and the cultivation of crops for animal feed, while calling for an opt-out of ecological systems and climate-related animal welfare standards.

Pekka Pesonen, Secretary General of Copa-Cogeca, said the best way to reduce carbon emissions is to increase productivity. He wants new technologies to be approved that allow gene editing to improve the performance of animals and plants.

“Roughly speaking, two-thirds of the productivity gains come from better genetic material, our crops and livestock.”

Civil society groups and non-governmental organizations urge Wojciechowski to resist.

“Diluting the Farm to Fork strategy and policies will perpetuate Europe’s reliance on non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels and will contradict what is currently needed to ensure food for all,” one said letter of Food Policy Coalition.

Farm to fork remains the best long-term strategy, Wojciechowski told the Financial Times in an interview. But he has proposed an interim four-point plan to agriculture ministers.

In order to mitigate the sharp drop in animal feed imports from Ukraine, he wants to allow farmers for just one year to plant animal feed crops on the 2.6 percent of the areas “set aside” for environmental protection.

Janusz Wojciechowski
EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has proposed a preliminary plan to agriculture ministers © Francisco Seco/Pool/AFP/Getty

Wojciechowski also wants to use the CAP’s €500 million reserve fund to support farmers. For example, pork producers would be helped with carcass storage costs. And he wants state aid rules changed so governments can offer more subsidies to farmers suffering high costs.

“With these instruments and the CAP, we can prevent food prices from rising further,” he said.

“We must continue the reforms, use manure and leave crop residues on the ground,” Wojciechowski added. “This can reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers. Intensification is not the solution for the future.”

WWF Europe’s Jabier Ruiz accepts the need for short-term action but questions Macron’s 13 percent reduction figure, which comes from a scientific assessment of the Farm to Fork strategy.

He said such assessments only looked at conventional measures and ignored the role of revitalizing the soil through less intensive use and dietary changes.

More than half of the crops in the EU are grown to feed animals, he said. The block consumes 60 kg of soybeans per capita annually, most of it from livestock.

“We don’t have a food crisis, we have a feed crisis,” he said. EU reviews sustainable food plans as war in Ukraine disrupts imports

Adam Bradshaw

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