The third meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries council under the French presidency took place yesterday. Events in Ukraine dominated the agenda.
Roman Leshchenko, Ukraine's Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, joined the meeting via video link. This was a ‘very moving moment’, according to Julien Denormandie the French Minister of Agriculture. Leschchenko, who was called away abruptly by warning sirens, outlined the support Ukraine farmers require: financing for inputs like fuel, fertiliser and pesticides as well as assistance to keep exports moving.
“During this very moving discussion with our Ukraine counterpart we also saw the support of the whole of Europe for ensuring food security, food autonomy. That applies to members of the European Union and also the European Union's partners. This question of food security and autonomy was the subject of broad political consensus coming,” Denormandie said.
So, what consensus has emerged? Member States have come to recognise the need to ‘preserve our production capacity at European level’. In the short term, there is widespread political backing for a number of short-term measures to help manage surging input prices for things like fertilisers, wheat, energy costs, fuel and gas. The Commission has announced an impending regulation on private storage in the pig meat sector and the mobilisation of the crisis reserve under Article 219.
European agriculture ministers have also moved to ease ambitions on fallow land. “The Commissioner also announced the temporary derogation for using set aside land, fallow land,” Denormandie noted.
As the Commission moves towards implementing the new Common Agricultural Policy and farmer payments, the Council looked at the National Strategic Plans that have been submitted by Member States. The transition towards organic production is seen as a key shift that embodies Europe’s aspirations to develop a more sustainable food system and EC Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the National Plans show progress in this area.
"Organic farming is a very visible target of green architecture in strategy plans. According to the proposal submitted by member states in their strategy plans, we can expect the current level of land used for organic farming to increase from 8% to 18% at the end of the financial period to 2027. This is real progress, may be not enough, but real progress,” he said.
This approach, European legislators suggest, is therefore striking the right balance between food security, sovereignty and sustainability. Denormandie explained that bridges have been built between the policy vision outlined in the Green Deal and Farm to Fork, adoption and implementation. The adoption and implementation has not watered down the policy vision, he maintained.
"There is a political vision, which is the Farm to Fork strategy and the Green Deal. Then we have legislative texts which transpose the political vision into a legal framework... Then we have the CAP which is mirrored in the National Strategic Plans, which mirrors the political strategy and where member states take on commitments in light of their own reality on the ground and in light of the political choices that they make within the agreed framework of the Common Agricultural Policy,” he stated.
These documents must ‘live up to the strategy the EU is trying to implement’, the French ag minister maintained. “A strategy that means we should be resilient, we should be able to adapt to climate change, carbon farming, transition to a more organic kind of farming,” he clarified.
Or did he? Plenty of critics would say EU politicians are using smoke and mirrors to disguise a blatant watering down of the Green Deal. Indeed, at the same press conference, Wojciechowski confirmed that the update to the EU pesticides directive is currently off the table, stating ‘there’s no discussion on pesticide at the next College’, meaning revision to the original pesticide directive scheduled for this week are postponed.
NGOs are concerned. “Over the last weeks, we have witnessed numerous public interventions with alarming messages according to which the EU’s “food security” is in danger because of the war in Ukraine. We are aware that international solidarity is and will be needed, but the situation in the EU with regard to “food security” and “food sovereignty” is different to the messages we have heard these last weeks,” a coalition of NGOs including PAN Europe, Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE), Compassion in World Farming and , IFOAM Organics Europe wrote.
“We warn about the misuse of the current situation to advance the political agenda of some private sector lobby groups with regards to the EU environmental and health commitments in general and pesticides in particular.”
The debate has also centred on the food versus feed debate. Perceived food security concerns are the result of overconsumption and production, particularly of animal products, the production of which is subsidised by the EU, according to Dr. Guy Pe’er, a researcher at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig and UFZ. “If the issue is food security why are they talking about feed?” he asked, noting that over 70% of agricultural land is used for feed and fuel. “We should therefore better use the resources we have for more food and less feed and fuel. We can do this, for instance, by cancelling the support for biofuels.”
Plant-based NGO ProVeg International has also called on the European Commission not to water down Europe’s Farm-to-Fork sustainability strategy in response to food security concerns raised by the war in Ukraine.
Instead, ministers should look towards speeding up the shift to plant-based diets and reducing the amount of grains poured into animal feed, ProVeg argued.
“It is important to continue in the direction guided by the EU’s Farm-to-Fork strategy of reducing the amount of grains that are fed to animals. The grains that the world is so dependent upon are more efficiently used for feeding people directly rather than going into the more wasteful and polluting animal agriculture industry,” argued Jasmijn de Boo, ProVeg Vice President.