Agrifood Brief: Schrödinger’s food security
In his famous thought experiment, Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger theorised that if you placed a cat in an unobserved, closed box with something that has the potential to kill it – say, a radioactive substance – it can be considered simultaneously both dead and alive.
The experiment is used as a way to reference something as a paradoxical situation where two opposing possibilities occur simultaneously.
Which is exactly the situation we currently find in the EU agri-food sector, where it seems there is simultaneously both too much and too little food.
In the ‘too much’ corner, we have an influx of foodstuffs from war-torn Ukraine via the EU’s solidarity lanes initiative, combined with an easing of customs duties, causing havoc in neighbouring countries.
After sounding the alarm back in September, neighbouring Romania has again warned that the proliferation of cheap grain is pushing its farmers to the brink of bankruptcy.
The surge of Ukrainian grain, worth a whopping $1.24 billion (€1.17 billion), has driven down its market price, leaving many Romanian farmers’ products languishing in warehouses for over a year.
Likewise, an influx of EU poultry meat imports onto the EU market has caused chaos, which reached around 164,000 tonnes in 2022 – up 80% compared to the same period last year.
This has pushed the market price down in Poland and EU farmers to the brink, competing with meat that is not subject to the same stringent animal welfare standards as in the bloc.
Farmers in these affected countries have repeatedly called for financial support, with the backing of EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who has repeatedly said he is in favour of triggering the EU’s agricultural reserve fund to give them a helping hand.
Yet, at the same time, we also somehow seemingly have too little food, according to industry voices and those on the political right.
For example, in a letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (15 March), the industry association FoodDrinkEurope warned that faced with ongoing vulnerabilities, “food availability and affordability remain under severe pressure in the EU today”, and the global competitiveness of one of Europe’s most critically important sectors is “eroding”.
Likewise, the centre-right group at the European Parliament has been waging a sustained war against the EU’s plans to slash the use and risk of pesticides on the grounds that it imperils food security, calling on the EU to “re-evaluate many law projects designed before the war” that they say may cut food production and push prices up.
In a statement, centre-right MEP Franc Bogovič pointed to studies that show pesticide reduction in Europe could result in certain sectors producing up to 30% less food in Europe.
“In the worst case scenario, Europe would be producing on average 30% less apples and olives, 23% less tomatoes and 15% less wheat, which would have to be substituted by imports from third countries with much lower production standards compared to the EU,” he warned.
In fact, according to a new report from green NGOs, the threat to food security posed by the EU pesticide reduction plans was by far the most frequently mentioned argument in nine analysed speeches of MEPs speaking out against the plans.
In short, the EU should produce more food but also halt the influx of too much food, protect farmers against plummeting food prices while also keeping them low and worry about having both too much food and too little – in other words, a Schrödinger’s paradox of food security.
Figuring out what is really going on is as hard as herding cats – but I have a funny ‘feline’ that these contradictions will continue for a long time yet.
Agrifood podcast: A LEAKy couple of weeks
Agrifood podcast: A LEAKy couple of weeks
This week, EURACTIV discusses a leaked draft of EU member states’ compromise text on the industrial emissions directive, and we hear from EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski for his take on the controversies surrounding the directive. We also speak with …
Agrifood stories this week
Agri stakeholders slam minister’s agreement on EU plans to slash emissions
After months of back and forth, EU ministers finally settled on their negotiating position on a proposal to see the EU’s industrial emissions slashed – but the agreement has not gone down well with farming stakeholders. Natasha Foote has the story.
Germany champions Mercosur deal despite agriculture woes
While several EU countries and many in the agricultural sector are critical of the planned EU-Mercosur agreement, the German government has proven a champion of the trade deal in hopes of achieving sustainability through cooperation. Julia Dahm has more.
NGOs disown Commissioner’s ‘greenwashed’ flagship pigmeat report
Green groups are up in arms over a recent Commission-drafted report on the sustainability of the pigmeat sector, slamming it as a greenwashing exercise and disowning the conclusions which purportedly reflect the views of the expert group of which they were part. Natasha Foote has the story.
MEPs agree EU pesticide reduction plan votes, pushing final deal after 2023
European lawmakers have finally agreed on a timeline to vote on their position on the EU’s plan to slash pesticide use, but this leaves a final deal on the file unlikely in 2023, as confirmed by a leaked draft of the Belgian presidency priorities. Natasha Foote has more.
CAP funding still vulnerable to conflicts of interest, say auditors
The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) still remains vulnerable to conflicts of interest thanks to transparency loopholes and a lack of measures to detect situations at risk and protect whistleblowers, according to a new watchdog report. Natasha Foote has the details.
NGOs, businesses call for binding targets in new EU soil health law
Ahead of the Commission’s proposal for an EU soil health law expected in June, a coalition of NGOs, progressive farming organisations, and food businesses has called for ambitious and binding measures. Julia Dahm has more.
Ongoing bird flu not a risk for general public, say EU agencies
Avian influenza outbreaks will increase in the poultry sector along with occasional infections in mammals, but this poses minimal risk for humans, concludes a new report by scientific EU agencies. Paula Andrés brings you the details.
GMO deregulation. During the Council meeting of EU environment ministers on 16 March, the potential deregulation of new GMOs in the EU was discussed as per an AOB point raised by the Austrian environment minister, Leonore Gewessler. The Austrian position set out that “the three pillars of the precautionary principle, scientific risk assessment and mandatory labelling must also apply to new genetic engineering methods”.
Pesticide tax proposal backed by Committee of the Regions. The Committee of the Regions published its opinion on the sustainable use of pesticides regulation (SUR) this week, which supports the Commission’s proposal to reduce the usage of pesticides. It also goes one step further, proposing the establishment of a fund for pest management that would be financed by risk-based taxation on pesticides, as suggested by the rapporteur for the European Parliament’s environment committee, Green MEP Sarah Wiener.
AGRI rapporteur on the SUR speaks up. Rapporteur on the same file for the agriculture committee, MEP Clara Aguilera, published a working document on the SUR this week, which highlights a number of issues that need to be addressed before the regulation can be effectively implemented. “In the view of your rapporteur, these problems make the proposal inapplicable if they are not resolved,” the working document, which can be found here, reads. The issues range from the use of pesticides in sensitive areas, to a lack of funding under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
Green claims proposal coming. Next week the European Commission is expected to crack down on greenwashing with a new law on green claims. See here for some background on the discussion in the agriculture sector.
Industrial meat not seen as a key cause of global warming. Citizens in Brazil, France, Germany, the UK and the US do not regard industrial meat as a key contributor to climate change, according to a new global poll by Northstar Research commissioned by sustainable food NGO Madre Brava. Learn more.
New player in town. This week saw the launch of Food Fermentation Europe (FFE), the unified voice representing the transformative fermentation food sector. FFE seeks to raise awareness and build a supportive, forward-looking policy framework for fermentation-enabled food and food ingredients in Europe, via technologies like precision fermentation.
Call for experts. The Commission published the call for applications to launch a group of experts in the context of the upcoming EU Fertilisers Market Observatory. Organisations representing stakeholders of at least 10 EU Member States and active within the EU in the fertiliser supply chains are invited to apply until 4 April.
Trade negotiations relaunched. The EU and Thailand announced the relaunch of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) in the coming months since these were first launched in 2013. The EU is Thailand’s 4th largest trade partner with trade in goods for over €42 billion in 2022.
Black Sea grain deal. Agriculture MEPs called for a longer extension of Black Sea grain deal, which unblocks Ukrainian Black Sea ports. The group of agriculture MEPs coordinating the committee said in a statement that Russia has ‘unilaterally’ decided to prolong the Black Sea Grain Initiative, set to expire on Saturday (18 March), for 60 days, instead of the foreseen extension of 120 days. “To ensure food security, we defend the importance of strengthening our solidarity lanes and call for Russia to stop using the Black Sea grain deal to finance its war,” the statement reads.
Nitrogen business acquisition. The European Commission has approved the acquisition of the nitrogen business of Borealis AG (‘Borealis NITRO’) by AGROFERT Group (‘AGROFERT’) under the EU Merger Regulation. The executive found that the transaction would raise no significant competition concerns in the European Economic Area (‘EEA’) for the production and sale of nitrogen fertilizers, AdBlue liquid and other technical nitrogen products.
State of soil health. A new tool of the EU Soil Observatory (EUSO), developed and run by the JRC, highlights the location and estimates the extent of unhealthy soils in the EU, as well as the degradation processes behind them. The tool will support the upcoming European Commission proposal for a soil health law expected by June. According to EUSO data, 61% of EU soils are in an unhealthy state.
Agrifood news from the CAPitals
Farmers’ protest party shakes up Dutch party landscape. Wednesday’s (15 March) regional elections in the Netherlands saw a historic success of the BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), a right-wing party founded in 2019 that represents the country’s farmers’ protest movement. Find all the info here. (Tobias Schminke I EuropeElects)
Slovak school cafeterias banned from selling soft drinks, fried food. School cafeterias in Slovakia will no longer be allowed to sell energy and sugary drinks or fried foods, while sweets, crisps, and similar products can make up at most half of the range offered, according to a new decree. Find out more. (Michal Hudec I EURACTIV.sk)
National railway company renounces glyphosate. Germany’s national railway company Deutsche Bahn announced on Sunday that it will stop using the contentious herbicide glyphosate for weed management on its premises before the end of this year. With the step, “we are assuming responsibility for the environmentally and climate-friendly protection of the track systems,” the company’s CEO, Richard Lutz, said in a statement. The announcement was also welcomed by the German government, which has committed to ending the use of glyphosate in the country as of 2024. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)
Food security to take priority for development policy. Food security will be a priority for Norway’s development policy, Anne Beathe Tvinnereim said on Monday. “Ten per cent of the world is food insecure and 828 million people are facing hunger,” she was cited by the online portal Devex. By focusing on food security in its development policies, Norway “show our friends, especially in developing countries, that we have not forgotten that there are other crises out there, even though we are focusing and allocating a lot of funds to Ukraine,” the minister said.
Mandatory origin labelling. Products served in communal catering will have to carry an origin label from September on, according to a regulation put forth by Austrian agriculture minister Norbert Totschnig. Canteens, cafeterias and restaurants will have to disclose which country the meals’ ingredients stem from on the menu, on posters, or on a monitor. “This is a first concrete implementation step for more transparency on our plates,” Totschnig said in a statement. Austria has also been pushing for an EU-wide mandatory origin label. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)
Avocados at risk. Rampant bee mortality, as well as an agreement that obliges beekeepers to move their hives away from citrus-growing areas, threaten the pollination of crops like avocados in the Valencia region, farmers warn. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro had more.
A €100m fund for young farmers. A draft bill to promote youth entrepreneurship in agriculture has been assigned to the agriculture committee of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. The draft law aims to establish a fund of €100 million available from 2024 to encourage the first establishment of young people in agriculture. It also provides for subsidised loans and a favourable tax regime for the purchase of farmlands worth no more than €200,000. These bonuses are envisaged for agricultural entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 40 years. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Romanian agriculture faces collapse amid mass Ukrainian grain imports. Farmers in countries neighbouring Ukraine, including grain-producing Romania, need help to compete with the proliferation of cheap grain from the war-torn state. Read more. (Oana-Carmen Zamfir I EURACTIV.ro)
Slovenian state aid. The European Commission has approved an approximately €1.75 million Slovenian scheme to support the apple and pear production sector in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The aid will take the form of direct grants and aims at compensating beneficiaries for part of the additional costs incurred due to the energy and other inputs price increase and to help them overcome their financial difficulties linked to the current crisis.
Senate calls for more research on lab-grown meat. The French Senate’s economy committee has called on the government to strengthen research on lab-grown meat. According to the lawmakers, more should be done to anticipate the growing, albeit controversial, trend towards synthetic and to make sure legislation is in place to regulate the sector. “We can’t afford to not anticipate this, and we need to avoid having to make decisions without an impact assessment,” conservative MP Olivier Rietmann, the Senate’s co-rapporteur on the issue, told Le Monde.
20 March I AGRIFISH Council meeting
22-23 March | European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) meeting
22-23 March | European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI) meeting
23-24 March | European Council