A Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe report claims to have revealed a well planned and orchestrated attempt of industry to undermine policies meant to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals mixtures (cumulative risk assessment, CRA). This is done by putting industry-linked experts in crucial positions in expert panels of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and of the European Food Safety Authority EFSA. A massive delay in policy implementation is the result. Eight years after the EU mandated such risk assessments for pesticide residues in food, EFSA still fails to carry them out, leaving consumers and citizens unprotected against the harms of mixtures of pesticides in food.
Every day people are exposed to dozens of pesticide residues in food, in fruit and vegetables, and to hundreds of other chemicals during their lifetime. Food standards however are based on a single exposure, which is unrealistic. Consequently these standards do not protect humans against the potential health damage of mixtures especially over an extended period of time. When politicians finally agreed to change the food standards, industry developed their views on CRA and set out to infiltrate government bodies that would implement the policy on CRA.
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Investment, connectivity and co-operation: Why we need more EU-African co-operation in agriculture
In recent months, the European Union has demonstrated its willingness to promote and support agricultural businesses in Africa, under European Commission’s Africa-EU Partnership. The Partnership, which stresses EU-African co-operation, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, aims to promote sustainability and biodiversity and have championed promoting public-private relationships across the continent, writes African Green Resources Chairman Zuneid Yousuf.
Though these commitments apply to the entire continent, I would like to focus on how increased African-EU co-operation has helped Zambia, my country. Last month, European Union Ambassador to Zambia Jacek Jankowski announced ENTERPRISE Zambia Challenge Fund (EZCF), an EU-backed initiative that will award grants to agribusiness operators in Zambia. The plan is worth an overall total of €25.9 million and has already launched its first call for proposals. In a time where Zambia, my country, is battling serious economic challenges this is a much-needed opportunity for the African agribusiness industry. More recently, just last week, the EU and Zambia agreed to two financing agreements that hope to boost investments in the country under the Economic Government Support Programme and the Zambia Energy Efficiency Sustainable Transformation Programme.
Europe’s collaboration and commitment to promoting African agriculture is not new. Our European partners have long been invested in promoting and helping African agribusiness realise their full potential and empower the sector. In June of this year, the African and European Unions launched a joint agri-food platform, which aims to link African and European private sectors to promote sustainable and meaningful investment.
The platform was launched off the back of the ‘Africa-Europe alliance for sustainable investment and jobs’ which was part of European Commission President’s Jean Claude Junker’s 2018 state of the Union address, where he called for a new “Africa-Europe alliance” and demonstrated that Africa is at the heart of the Union’s external relations.
The Zambian, and arguably the African agricultural environment, is dominated largely by small-to-medium sized farms that need both financial and institutional support to navigate these challenges. In addition, there is a lack of connectivity and interconnectedness within the sector, preventing farmers to connect with each other and realise their full potential through cooperation.
What makes EZCF unique among European agribusiness initiatives in Africa, however, is its specific focus on Zambia and empowering Zambian farmers. Over the past few years, the Zambian farming industry has grappled with droughts, lack of reliable infrastructure and unemployment. In fact, throughout 2019, it is estimated that a severe drought in Zambia led to 2.3 million people requiring emergency food assistance.
Therefore, a solely Zambia-focused initiative, backed by the European Union and aligned with promoting increased connectedness and investment in agriculture, not only reinforces Europe’s strong connection with Zambia, but will also bring some much-needed support and opportunity for the sector. This will undoubtedly allow our local farmers to unlock and leverage a wide range of financial resources.
More importantly, the EZCF is not operating alone. Alongside international initiatives, Zambia is already home to several impressive and important agribusiness companies that are working to empower and provide farmers with access to funding and capital markets.
One of these is African Green Resources (AGR) a world-class agribusiness company of which I am proud to be the chairman. At AGR, the focus is to promote value addition at every level of the farming value chain, as well as look for sustainable strategies for farmers to maximise their yields. For example, in March this year, AGR teamed up with several commercial farmers and multilateral agencies to develop a private sector financed irrigation scheme and dam and off grid solar supply which will support over 2,400 horticultural farmers, and expand grain production and new fruit plantations in the Mkushi farming block in Central Zambia. Over the next few years, our focus will be to continue promoting sustainability and the implementation of similar initiatives, and we are ready to invest alongside other agribusiness companies that seek to expand, modernise or diversify their operations.
Though it appears that the agricultural sector in Zambia may be facing challenges in the years to come, there are some very important milestones and reasons for optimism and opportunity. Increased cooperation with the European Union and European partners is an important way of capitalizing on opportunity and ensuring that we are all doing as much as we can to help small and medium sized farmers across the country.
Promoting increased interconnectedness within the private sector will help ensure that small farmers, the backbone of our national agricultural industry, are supported and empowered to collaborate, and share their resources with larger markets. I believe that both European and local agribusiness companies are heading in the right direction by looking into ways of promoting agribusiness, and I hope that together, we can all sustainably promote these goals on the regional and international stage.
A greener, fairer, and more robust EU farm policy
The EU’s future farm policy should be more flexible, sustainable, and crisis-resilient, so that farmers can continue to deliver food security across the EU. MEPs on Friday (23 October) adopted their position on the post-2022 EU farm policy reform. The EP negotiating team is now ready to start talks with EU ministers.
Moving towards a performance-based policy
MEPs endorsed a policy shift that should better tailor the EU’s farm policy to the needs of individual member states but they insist on maintaining a level playing field across the Union. National governments should draft strategic plans, which the Commission will endorse, specifying how they intend to implement EU objectives on the ground. The Commission would be checking their performance, not only their compliance with EU rules.
Promoting better environmental performance of EU farms
The objectives of strategic plans shall be pursued in line with the Paris Agreement, MEPs say.
Parliament strengthened mandatory climate and environmentally-friendly practices, the so-called conditionality, that each farmer must apply to get direct support. On top of that, MEPs want to dedicate at least 35% of the rural development budget to all types of environmental and climate-related measures. At least 30% of the direct payments budget should go to eco-schemes, which would be voluntary but could increase farmers’ income.
MEPs insist on setting up farm advisory services in every member state and allocating at least 30% of their EU-sponsored funding to help farmers fight climate change, manage natural resources sustainably, and protect biodiversity. They also call on member states to encourage farmers to dedicate 10% of their land to landscaping that is beneficial to biodiversity, such as hedges, non-productive trees, and ponds.
Reducing payments to bigger farms, supporting small and young farmers
MEPs voted to progressively reduce annual direct payments to farmers above €60 000 and cap them at €100 000. However, farmers could be allowed to deduct 50% of agriculture-related salaries from the total amount before reduction. At least 6% of national direct payments should be used to support small and medium-sized farms but if more than 12% is used, the capping should become voluntary, MEPs say.
EU states could use at least 4% of their direct payments budgets to support young farmers. Further support could be granted from the rural development funding where young farmers’ investments could be prioritized, MEPs say.
Parliament stresses that EU subsidies should be reserved only for those who engage in at least a minimum level of agricultural activity. Those who operate airports, railway services, waterworks, real estate services, permanent sports and recreational grounds should be automatically excluded.
Veggie burgers and tofu steaks: No change in labelling plant-based products
MEPs rejected all proposals to reserve meat-related names for products containing meat. Nothing will change for plant-based products and the names they currently use when being sold.
Helping farmers deal with risks and crises
Parliament pushed for further measures to help farmers cope with risks and potential future crises. It wants the market to be more transparent, an intervention strategy for all agricultural products, and practices aiming for higher environmental, animal health, or animal welfare standards to be exempt from competition rules. They also want to turn the crisis reserve, helping farmers with price or market instability, from an ad-hoc instrument to a permanent one with a proper budget.
Higher sanctions for repeated breaches and EU complaints mechanism
Parliament wants to increase sanctions for those who repeatedly fail to comply with EU requirements (e.g. on the environment and animal welfare). This should cost farmers 10% of their entitlements (up from today’s 5%).
MEPs also want an ad-hoc EU complaints mechanism to be set up. This would cater to farmers and rural beneficiaries who are treated unfairly or disadvantageously with regard to EU subsidies, if their national government fails to deal with their complaint.
Results of the vote and more information
The strategic plans regulation was approved by 425 votes in favour to 212 against, with 51 abstentions.
The regulation on common market organization was approved by 463 votes in favour to 133 against, with 92 abstentions.
The regulation on financing, management and monitoring of the CAP was approved by 434 votes in favour to 185 against, with 69 abstentions.
More information about the approved texts is available in the background note.
Statements by the Chair of the Agriculture Committee and the three rapporteurs are available here.
The last reform of the EU farm policy, established in 1962, dates back to 2013.
Current CAP rules expire on 31 December 2020. They should be replaced by transitional rules until the ongoing CAP reform is agreed and approved by the Parliament and Council.
The CAP accounts for 34.5% of the 2020 EU budget (€58.12 billion). Around 70% of the CAP budget supports the income of six to seven million EU farms.
Commission welcomes Council agreement on future Common Agricultural Policy
On 20 October, the Council agreed on its negotiating position, the so-called general approach, on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposals. The Commission welcomes this agreement, a decisive step towards entering the negotiation phase with the co-legislators.
Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “I welcome the progress made and the general approach on the Common Agricultural Policy reached over the night. This is an important step for our farmers and our farming community. I am grateful for member states' constructive cooperation and I trust this agreement will help ensure that European agriculture can continue to provide economic, environmental and social benefits for our farmers and citizens in future.”
The European Parliament is also voting on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) proposals during the Plenary session, with voting sessions scheduled until today (23 October). Once the European Parliament agrees on a position for all three CAP reports, the co-legislators will be able to enter into the negotiation phase, with a view to reach an overall agreement.
The Commission presented its CAP reform proposals in June 2018, aiming at a more flexible, performance and results-based approach, while setting higher environmental and climate action ambitions. Following the adoption of the Farm to fork and biodiversity strategies, the Commission presented the CAP reform's compatibility with the Green Deal's ambition.
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