Agrifood Brief: A State of the Agricultural Union

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.

4 – New Copa President, labelling disputes, cocoa initiative

The discontent in the agri-food world has still not been allayed after Commission president Ursula von der Leyen gave agriculture little weight during her State of the Union speech last week (16 September).

We wrote on this space that, although not directly mentioned, a reference to agriculture was implicit in the renewed ambition to reach climate neutrality by 2050, which needs much effort from farmers to be delivered.

In a tweet, the Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture (DG AGRI) also relaunched von der Leyen’s only bit of the discourse loosely referable to agriculture, as she highlighted the need to bring rural broadband in rural areas.

But it was not enough and von der Leyen’s slip-up went undigested.

In an exclusive interview with, the newly elected president of the European farmers association COPA, Christiane Lambert, said she was “very disappointed” about this forgetfulness.

“How can a former minister of an agricultural country and now Commissioner of a large agricultural continent, whose first policy has been the Common agricultural policy (CAP) since 1960, make a speech as the head of the Union without talking about agriculture?”

According to Lambert, the lack of recognition of the agricultural sector was particularly galling in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, which she said has made everyone recognise the important role of agriculture.

For this reason, she revived the idea of taking stock of the current situation in European farming.

“[A point in] my agenda is to make a State of the Agricultural Union and to say everything that agriculture brings to the EU: food, food security, health through food,” she said.

It does not sound like a bad idea.

Over recent years, lots of words have been spent setting out plans to rethink farming as we know it.

In Spring, the Commission unveiled its pivotal food policy strategy, the Farm to Fork (F2F), with the intention to anticipate – and shape – trends in the agri-food world that still have to come.

However, there is no “what we need to be” moment without a preliminary “what we are now” one.

Many have complained about the lack of an impact assessment behind the F2F that would have taken into account not only the finish line for European farming but the starting position as well.

A state-of-the-art today in the agri-food sector could also be useful in dispelling any doubt on whether the main EU’s farming subsidies programme is still a necessity since NGOs are increasingly questioning its very existence – which is, however, heavily defended by farmers and the industry.

Perhaps one of the forthcoming EU presidencies – upcoming ones are Portugal, Slovenia and France – could get the fruit of opportunity and endorse the idea to shedding light on the actual contributions and damages of farming to Europe.

Taking into account, it goes without saying, any aspect in which agriculture can have an impact: not only from the environmental side but also from the social, economic and cultural point of view.

Agrifood news this week

EU farmers boss: Farm to Fork to be revised if negative impact was proved
The European Commission’s new food policy should be reviewed if a future impact assessment shows that it will negatively affect farmers, the newly-elected chair of farmers association COPA, Christiane Lambert, told in an exclusive interview.

EU mulls over plan to boost carbon-storage on farmlands
Farmers and foresters need to be “directly incentivised” to put in practice carbon-capture crops and other measures intended to reduce net greenhouse gases (GHG), according to an update of the European Commission’s Climate Law. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Member states coalition presents latest challenge to colour-coded nutrition label
The fight against the supremacy of France’s Nutri-Score system as the EU-wide nutrition food label has kicked up a notch with the addition of a new non-paper backed by at least seven member states. Natasha Foote has the story.

‘Efficiency not a dirty word’: why bigger can sometimes mean better in farming
The concept of efficiency and productivity in farming is often associated with poor animal welfare and sustainability, but that is not necessarily the case and more work must be done to change this perception, stakeholders highlighted at a recent event on animal welfare. Read more here.

Farmers need financial reassurance to support uptake of agroforestry
In a clear nod to the strategic importance of agroforestry, the term has now cropped up in both the European Green Deal, the European Commission’s roadmap for making Europe the first climate neutral continent by 2050, and the EU’s flagship new food policy, the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy. Natasha Foote has more.

Targets for anti-microbials must allow for ‘massive’ variation within livestock sector 
Ambitions to lower the use of antibiotics in farming must take into account the “massive” amount of variation between member states and also between species, according to a leading livestock sustainability consultant who also highlighted the pressing need to digitalise the animal health sector. Learn more here.

“The guidelines for member states’ strategic plans are not legally binding documents, they are recommendations”

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski during a press conference after the AGRIFISH Council this week

News from the bubble

New committee chair: This week, Green MEP Tilly Metz has been elected chair of the new Inquiry Committee on Animal Transport in the European Parliament. For more information on the Committee, see here.

Cocoa initiative: The European Commission has kicked off an initiative to improve sustainability in the cocoa sector. A new multi-stakeholder dialogue will bring together representatives of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – the two main cocoa producing countries accounting for 70% of global cocoa production – as well as representatives of the European Parliament, EU Member States, cocoa growers and civil society. It aims to deliver concrete recommendations to advance sustainability across the cocoa supply chain through collective action and partnerships.

Soil health report: The Missions Board presented it’s report on soil, entitled “Caring for Soil is Caring for Life“, at the European Research and Innovation Days event this week, where high-level independent experts presented their proposals to the European Commission for possible EU missions on some of our most pressing societal challenges.

Agricultural stats: Eurostat released a updated report on agriculture statistics at the regional level, focusing on four specific areas with information on: the age of farm managers; the harvested production of various cereals (common wheat and spelt; grain maize and corn-cob-mix); the number of bovine animals and milk production; the share of agricultural area that has been converted to organic farming. It also released a report on the country-by-country break down on livestock numbers in the EU.

New protected origin: The Commission has approved the addition of “Szilvásváradi pisztráng” from Hungary and of “Provola dei Nebrodi” in the register of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). “Szilvásváradi pisztráng’ is a fish belonging to the trout family, while Provola dei Nebrodi is a stretched-curd cheese from a mountain region in Sicily.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

Romania wants to include pork and poultry meat on the list of products eligible for coupled payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), according to agriculture minister Adrian Oros. Oros told the AGRIFISH Council on Monday that Romania supports an allocation of at least 15% of the national CAP for coupled payments for pork and poultry products. (Bogdan Neagu |

The UK House of Lords has supported amendments to the Agriculture Bill which would require food products imported under future trade deals to meet or exceed domestic standards for animal health and welfare, environmental protection, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health. The proposals were intended to address concerns that British food standards may be compromised in post-Brexit trade agreements. (Natasha Foote |

The High Council for Energy has rejected a proposal from the government to reduce the price of bio-methane. The potential reduction up to 15% in the feed-in tariffs for biomethane had provoked a strong reaction from farmers and politicians in the Hauts-de-France (North) region. The Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, said she wanted to start a consultation with the biogas sector in the coming weeks. According to the Agriculture Ministry, 380 methanisers existed in France in 2018. (Anne Damiani |

Two of Belgium’s most iconic products, beer and fries, stand to be severely affected by the effects of climate change, a new report commissioned by the National Climate Commission warned on Thursday (17 September). (Alexandra

According to Italian dairy association Assolatte, cheese export witnessed an increase of 3% in volume and 0.8% in value during the first six months of the year. The positive trend was driven by fresh (+14.1%) and grated cheese (6.2%) (Gerardo Fortuna |

The National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) will offer nearly €22 million from European Funds to support new technologies in the agricultural sector. The initiative aims to increase the competitiveness of Polish companies working on projects in the field of robotisation, automation, digitisation and environmentally friendly agri-food production. (Mateusz Kucharczyk |

On our radar

A new European Alliance for Plant-based Foods (EAPF) has launched this week, which aims to place plant-based foods at the heart of the transition towards more sustainable and healthy food systems. The alliance, which includes industry players such as Upfield, Nestlé, and Beyond Meat, as well as NGOs and the scientific community, aims to promote policies and laws that recognise the role of plant-based foods in the sustainable transition and guarantee fair access to the EU market.

Ahead of the next round of EU-UK talks next week, FoodDrinkEurope has joined with farmers association COPA-COGECA and agricultural trade association CELCAA to warn of a “disastrous double whammy” if no deal is reached in a joint statement.

Upcoming events

25 September – There is a workshop dealing with all aspects of the European Green Deal that are directly concerning the agro-food and bio-economy sector.

25 September – #IGrowYourFood is a global action day celebrating anyone involved in growing food using organic and agroecological practices—whether you’re a farmer or a processor, producer, exporter, trader or organiser.

29 September – There is a conference on the “Farm to Fork” Strategy: Ensuring a healthy balance between Europe’s food systems and biodiversity conservation” which will discuss opportunities and challenges for the “Farm to Fork” Strategy, one of the main pillars of the EU Green Deal recently unveiled by the European Commission.

29 September – To mark the International day of food loss and waste, FAO Brussels is holding an event to discuss solutions to the food loss and waste issue and highlight the importance of working together across all actors. You can register here to attend.

Don’t miss

Watch out for EURACTIV’s upcoming special report on new terminologies in sustainable food systems.

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