Farm lobby uses Russia-Ukraine war as opportunity to attack the European Green Deal
While Russia is bombing major cities across Ukraine, forcing over a 1.5 million people to leave their homes, and creating an unimaginable amount of human suffering, the European farm lobby has wasted no time to exploit this tragedy for their own economic gain.
As this humanitarian catastrophe unfolds, the focus of all should be on relieving suffering rather than seeking to overturn overnight a well worked policy agenda designed to protect farmers, citizens, and the environment. Human tragedy must not be exploited for personal gain.
But, in the past few days, the all-powerful French farm union FNSEA, followed by its European umbrella organisation COPA-COGECA, have launched an assault of their own on the EU Farm to Fork Strategy specifically, and on environmental policy in general. Spearheaded by French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie, a strong supporter of the farm lobby, he has taken immediate steps to attempt to shove the EU off its path towards an ecological transition in farming.
Denormandie has already pushed through a vote to suspend the already meagre condition of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that requires all farmers who benefit from the subsidies to have 4% of ecological infrastructure such as trees, hedges, and fallows on their fields. And he has no intention to stop there.
Everything from pesticide and fertiliser reduction targets to the upcoming EU Nature Restoration law, are now under fire because of “food security”.
But there is a much more sinister agenda at play.
If Denormandie actually cared about cereal prices spiking and hurting food markets and wanted to in fact do “everything to liberate the potential of agricultural production starting from now”, he would be proposing to suspend all biofuel subsidies.
This is the one action, fully within EU governments control, that could release by fiat a huge amount of cereals and edible oils – food – on the market. Many millions of hectares are currently being used to feed European cars rather than people, and this demand is entirely policy generated. The EU as such is a major exporter of cereals and faces no short, nor long-term grain shortage.
So, it’s not about food. It never was.
It’s about exploiting a tragedy to preserve the current broken farming model that is destroying the ecosystems on which it depends, wiping out biodiversity, harming citizens health, and relentlessly reducing the number of farmers. It’s a deadly system doing damage all around, but one that makes a lot of money for a handful of big companies and large farmers – the ones who control the farm lobby which keeps politicians on a short leash.
If European decision makers follow farm lobby demands, they will actually put European food security at risk. There is a scientific consensus that the biggest threat to food security in coming years is due to climate change and ecological breakdown. Not addressing these problems with absolute urgency is the worst thing Europe could do.
The farm lobby is willing to wipe out the livelihoods, and ultimately, the lives of European farmers, who are among the most exposed to the ravages of floods, droughts, and emerging pests. Some of the farm lobby requests won’t just destroy nature but are also both politically and morally wrong. Most notably is the request to subsidise nitrogen fertilisers which, pollution aside, would lead to a higher demand for gas, the one thing everyone knows we don’t need.
The intensive farm lobby and the environmental movement have had many differences over the years and that is not going to change overnight. We have a different vision of the future. But, we urge decision-makers to act in the interest of all people, not only those championing their own private interests. If the Farm to Fork Strategy is to be reviewed in light of the war, then it is imperative that those who know that a healthy, natural environment underpins the long-term future of farming are also heard.
All things considered; our food system must still be rethought. The disruption of supplies from a region accounting for about 30% of wheat exports, is likely to result in a spike in cereal prices. And while rich societies and middle classes can easily weather such spikes, the same cannot be said for those with lower incomes and our most vulnerable in society – both in Europe and beyond. There is thus a case for the deployment of short-term safety net measures, as well as for a more fundamental longer term set of investments.
On the short term the EU should:
- Introduce systems of food vouchers, social kitchens, ramped up school canteens and social spending to buffer the most vulnerable within our society
- Ramp up global aid, including food and nutrition programs for vulnerable regions
- Suspend all support to bioenergy in order to rapidly bring back huge amounts of prime arable land into human food production
- Launch a crash program of food waste reduction. Some measures such as mandatory delivery of unsold fresh food to food banks can be deployed rapidly and put food directly on the tables that need it.
- Immediately modify procurement rules to reduce waste and shift servings away from excessive meat and dairy towards more plant-based ingredients. A significant amount of food is not “chosen by consumers” but bought by the state for canteens in schools, hospitals, barracks, prisons, civil service offices etc.
- Support farmers, especially in the livestock sector, to reduce animal numbers and thus reduce fee requirements and support the transition towards more self-sufficient husbandry.
On the longer term the EU should:
- Press ahead with policies aiming the restoration of the ecological resilience of farmland: more biodiversity, less pesticides and fertilisers, less water use, more soil fertility
- Bring in comprehensive policies to reduce food waste and favour dietary shifts in favour of healthier and lower footprint diets with less meat and dairy and more vegetable proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Bring in a comprehensive food systems law to help act on the entire supply chain ensuring that citizens are offered products that are both healthy and resource sparing.
- Stop the use of food and good agricultural land for bioenergy and put in place policies to re-orient the use of biomaterials towards the recuperation of waste streams that do not compete with food production.
- Promote agricultural policies that reduce farmers dependence on all types of inputs, diversifies their income and increases their resilience.
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