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EU’s #agriculture sector faces yet another crisis

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agriculture-euToday, more than 50 years since the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) came into force, the consensus is that the EU’s agriculture sector is facing yet another crisis and desperately needs a re-launch, writes Martin Banks.

The CAP started functioning in 1962 and was the first collective policy of the European Community. Its main idea is the partnership of the agricultural sector with the citizens of Europe with its farmers.

The EU will start public consultations early this year on the future of the CAP, with a paper on how to simplify and modernize the CAP due before the end of 2017. The talks on a future CAP will run alongside talks on Brexit, which the EU said must wind up by October 2018 to allow time for the European and UK parliaments to vote on a deal.

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In the run up to last June’s Brexit referendum, the UK farming minister George Eustice broke rank with the government and argued that British farmers would be better off out of the EU. It illustrated a feeling that farmers in the UK, and elsewhere, are fed up with meddling from Brussels over the best way to grow food.

The current CAP runs up to 2020, until the end of the bloc's long-term budget, and is worth around €56bn a year to farmers across the bloc.

But by the time the current CAP runs out, the UK will have left the EU, leaving less money in the bloc's coffers. There are several ideas in the ether about how to aid farmers under a new CAP.

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Take, for example, EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren, who has called on EU agriculture ministers to help structural reform to create a sustainable agriculture sector rather than resort to “empty policy gestures.”

“We know that agriculture is going through a very difficult period, and retailers have sought to give farmers real help. We need a diverse, healthy and competitive farming sector able, now and in the future, to provide Europe’s 500 million consumers with the varied, quality food they need and want.”

“Europe’s leaders will do hard-working farmers a real disservice if they focus on legislative gestures rather than helping them address the structural problems they face,” Verschueren said.

In a letter to Agriculture Council President Gabriele Matečná, EuroCommerce has called on EU governments to develop concrete policies that address these structural issues, help agriculture to become better organised, more responsive to market signals and to consumer demand.

A recent report by an independent task force suggested EU-level rules on unfair trading practices, including a ban on late payments to farmers, obligatory written contracts with suppliers and price reporting all along the food supply chain.

It also suggested channelling more EU subsidies into offsetting future risks, and said the European Investment Bank should do more to help farmers access loans.

Aside from budgetary issues, the EU’s agricultural policy is also mired in controversy elsewhere, namely the use of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide. Breaking with regulatory agencies in Europe and the U.S., the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm slapped a “probably carcinogenic” label on the herbicide in 2015, pushing European NGOs and Green groups to lobby hard the European Commission to lift its market authorisation. While the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has no formal role in the European decision making process, and the body’s methodology is flawed as it only looks at hazard irrespective of exposure levels, its glyphosate assessment divided European states. France and Germany strong-armed the European Commission to extend the pesticide’s market authorization for a temporary period of 18 months – due to lapse by the end of 2017. This very uncertainty over re-authorising use of the chemical is thought to have been a decisive factor that drove many British farmers to vote Leave in the 23 June Referendum.

UK farmers supported joining the EU in 1975 but what is seen as “meddling by Brussels” has soured relations since.

The current debate on glyphosate starkly illustrates how CAP straddles a great policy divide, from agriculture to food safety.

Set up to feed post war Europe at stable prices for producers and consumers, by the early 1980s, the CAP was swallowing 70 percent of the community budget. Surpluses grew so large they had to be taken off the market and stored for long periods in giant warehouses at taxpayers’ expense. Some were sold off at subsidised prices to the former Soviet Union and developing countries.

Then farmers were paid to dig up their vines, reduce their herds and leave land fallow. Eventually, the link between subsidies and production was cut, but farmers still receive EU payments for maintaining the countryside and producing high-quality food.

Today the Common Agricultural Policy still guzzles 40 percent of the EU budget. That level of spending will not fall significantly before 2020.

Many agree that the sector needs action now but there are varying rules in place to protect farmers in 20 EU countries and an additional problem is that EU rules take years to come into effect.

CAP is the policy that has driven many of the sector’s changes over the last 50 years.

But most agree that the CAP is now at a crossroads.

With talk of a breakup of the EU, many will hope that the latest CAP reform will not only help Europe’s farmers but also relaunch agriculture as a pillar of the European project itself.

Agriculture

Common Agricultural Policy: How does the EU support farmers?

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From supporting farmers to protecting the environment, the EU's farm policy covers a range of different goals. Learn how EU agriculture is funded, its history and its future, Society.

What is the Common Agricultural Policy?

The EU supports farming through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Set up in 1962, it has undergone a number of reforms to make agriculture fairer for farmers and more sustainable.

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There are about 10 million farms in the EU and the farming and food sectors together provide nearly 40 million jobs in the EU.

How is the Common Agricultural Policy funded?

The Common Agricultural Policy is funded through the EU budget. Under the EU's budget for 2021-2027, €386.6 billion has been set aside for farming. It is divided into two parts:

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  • €291.1bn for the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, which provides income support for farmers.
  • €95.5bn for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, which includes funding for rural areas, climate action and the management of natural resources.

How does EU agriculture look today? 

Farmers and the agriculture sector were affected by COVID-19 and the EU introduced specific measures to support the industry and incomes. Current rules on how CAP funds should be spent run until 2023 due to delays in budget negotiations. This required a transitional agreement to protect farmers’ incomes and ensure food security.

Will the reform mean a more environmentally-friendly Common Agricultural Policy?

EU agriculture accounts for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. The reform should lead to a more environmentally friendly, fairer and transparent EU farm policy, MEPs said, after a deal was reached with the Council. Parliament wants to link CAP to the Paris agreement on climate change, while increasing support to young farmers and small and medium-sized farms. Parliament will vote on the final deal in 2021 and it will come into effect in 2023.

Agriculture policy is linked to the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy from the European Commission, which aims to protect the environment and ensure healthy food for everyone, whilst ensuring farmers’ livelihoods.

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Agriculture

Proposed lift on USA lamb ban welcome news for industry

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The FUW met with the USDA in 2016 to discuss lamb export opportunities. From left, US agricultural specialist Steve Knight, US Counselor for agricultural affairs Stan Phillips, FUW senior policy officer Dr Hazel Wright and FUW President Glyn Roberts

The Farmers’ Union of Wales has welcomed news that the long standing ban on importing Welsh lamb into the United States is to be lifted soon. The announcement was made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday 22 September. 

The FUW has long discussed the prospect of lifting the unjustified ban with the USDA in various meetings over the past decade. Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales have highlighted that the potential market for PGI Welsh Lamb in the USA is estimated to be worth as much as £20 million a year within five years of the export restrictions being removed.

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Speaking from his Carmarthenshire sheep farm, FUW Deputy President Ian Rickman, said: “Now more than ever we need to explore other export markets while also protecting our long established markets in Europe. The US market is one we are keen to develop much stronger relationships with and the news that this ban could soon be lifted is most welcome news for our sheep industry.”

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Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission approves new geographical indication from Hungary

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The Commission has approved the addition of ‘Szegedi tükörponty' from Hungary in the register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). ‘Szegedi tükörponty' is a fish of the carp species, produced in Szeged region, near Hungary's southern border, where a system of fish ponds was created. The alkaline water of the ponds gives the fish a particular vitality and resilience. The flaky, reddish, flavorsome flesh of the fish farmed in these ponds, and its fresh aroma with no side-tastes, can be directly attributed to the specific saline land.

The quality and flavour of the fish are directly influenced by the good oxygen supply at the lake bed in the fish ponds created on saline soil. The flesh of ‘Szegedi tükörponty' is high in protein, low in fat and very flavoursome. The new denomination will be added to the list of 1563 products already protected in the eAmbrosia database. More information online on quality products.

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