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EU agricultural spending has not made farming more climate-friendly

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EU agricultural funding destined for climate action has not contributed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming, according to a special report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). Although over a quarter of all 2014-2020 EU agricultural spending – more than €100 billion – was earmarked for climate change, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have not decreased since 2010. This is because most measures supported by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have a low climate-mitigation potential, and the CAP does not incentivize the use of effective climate-friendly practices.

“The EU’s role in mitigating climate change in the agricultural sector is crucial, because the EU sets environmental standards and co-finances most of member states’ agricultural spending,” said Viorel Ștefan, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “We expect our findings to be useful in the context of the EU’s objective of becoming climate-neutral by 2050. The new Common Agricultural Policy should have a greater focus on reducing agricultural emissions, and be more accountable and transparent about its contribution to climate mitigation.”

The auditors examined whether the 2014-2020 CAP supported climate mitigation practices with the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from three key sources: livestock, chemical fertilisers and manure, and land use (cropland and grassland). They also analysed whether the CAP incentivised the uptake of effective mitigation practices better in the 2014-2020 period than it did in the 2007-2013 period.

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Livestock emissions represent around half of emissions from agriculture; they have not decreased since 2010. These emissions are directly linked to the size of the livestock herd, and cattle cause two thirds of them. The share of emissions attributable to livestock rises further if the emissions from the production of animal feed (including imports) is taken into account. However, the CAP does not seek to limit livestock numbers; nor does it provide incentives to reduce them. CAP market measures include the promotion of animal products, consumption of which has not decreased since 2014; this contributes to maintaining greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them.

Emissions from chemical fertilisers and manure, which account for almost a third of agricultural emissions, increased between 2010 and 2018. The CAP has supported practices that may reduce the use of fertilisers, such as organic farming and cultivating grain legumes. However, these practices have an unclear impact on greenhouse gas emissions, according to the auditors. Instead, practices that are demonstrably more effective, such as precision farming methods that match fertiliser applications to crop needs, received little funding.

The CAP supports climate-unfriendly practices, for example by paying farmers who cultivate drained peatlands, which represent less than 2% of EU farmland but which emit 20% of EU agricultural greenhouse gases. Rural development funds could have been used for the restoration of these peatlands, but this was rarely done. Support under the CAP for carbon sequestration measures such as afforestation, agroforestry and the conversion of arable land to grassland has not increased compared to the 2007-2013 period. EU law does not currently apply a polluter-pays principle to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

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Finally, the auditors note that cross-compliance rules and rural development measures changed little compared to the previous period, despite the EU’s increased climate ambition. Although the greening scheme was supposed to enhance the environmental performance of the CAP, it did not incentivise farmers to adopt effective climate-friendly measures, and its impact on climate has been only marginal.

Background information

Food production is responsible for 26 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, and farming – in particular the livestock sector – is responsible for most of these emissions.

The EU’s 2021-2027 Common Agricultural Policy, which will involve around €387bn in funding, is currently under negotiation at EU level. Once the new rules are agreed, member states will implement them through 'CAP Strategic Plans' designed at national level and monitored by the European Commission. Under the current rules, each member state decides whether or not its farming sector will contribute to reducing agricultural emissions.

Special report 16/2021: “Common Agricultural Policy and climate – Half of EU climate spending but farm emissions are not decreasing” is available on the ECA website

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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Will MEPs bolster the Farm to Fork Strategy?

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This Thursday and Friday (9-10 September), the European Parliament’s AGRI and ENVI committees are voting on their reaction to the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. The European Parliament’s Agriculture (AGRI) and Environment (ENVI) committees are voting on their joint own-initiative report on the Farm to Fork Strategy, which sets out how the EU aims to make the food system “fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly”. The amendments to the report will be voted upon on Thursday.

Then, MEPs from both committees are expected to approve their joint Farm to Fork Strategy report on Friday and send it to plenary for a final vote scheduled for early October. The scientific evidence shows that the EU food system is currently not sustainable, and that major changes are needed in how we produce, trade and consume food if we are to respect our international commitments and planetary boundaries. The Farm to Fork Strategy, presented by the European Commission in 2020 as a central element of the European Green Deal, is a potential game-changer in this area. This is because it breaks through silos and brings together multiple policy initiatives that aim to make the food system more sustainable.

Nevertheless, agricultural stakeholders and farm ministers have given the Farm to Fork Strategy a lukewarm reception. This is because they support the continued use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics in EU farming – despite the environmental harm they do – and the Strategy calls the widespread use of these agrochemicals into question. Now, it’s over to the European Parliament to establish its position on the Strategy, which will send a strong political signal to the European Commission. This is especially timely with the UN Food Systems Summit taking place in two weeks time and the second edition of the Farm to Fork Conference in October.

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“MEPs cannot miss this golden opportunity to bolster the Farm to Fork Strategy and make it central to delivering the EU’s climate, biodiversity and sustainable development goals for 2030,” said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer for Food and Agriculture at WWF’s European Policy Office. “The Strategy has a lot of potential to make our food systems more sustainable, if implemented at the scale needed. The Parliament can now give an essential impetus for this to happen.”

Overall, the European Parliament report must endorse the ambition of the Farm to Fork Strategy and call on the European Commission to fully develop and extend the policy initiatives covered under the strategy. More specifically, WWF considers it particularly important that MEPs support compromise amendments asking to:

Base the future EU law on sustainable food systems on the latest scientific knowledge and involve stakeholders from a broad variety of perspectives to ensure a legitimate and inclusive process. Introduce robust seafood traceability mechanisms that provide accurate information on where, when, how and which fish has been caught or farmed for all seafood products regardless of whether it is EU-caught or imported, fresh or processed.

Acknowledge that a population-wide shift in consumption patterns is needed, including addressing the overconsumption of meat and ultra-processed products, and present a protein transition strategy covering both the demand and the supply side to lower environmental and climate impacts.

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Encourage action to curb food waste occurring at the primary production level and early stages of the supply chain, including unharvested food, and set binding targets for food waste reduction at every stage of the supply chain. Introduce mandatory due diligence for supply chains to ensure EU imports are free of not only deforestation but also of any type of ecosystem conversion and degradation – and do not lead to any adverse impacts on human rights.

After the vote on Thursday, AGRI MEPs will also rubber-stamp the political agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy, reached in June. This is a standard procedure in EU policy-making and no surprises are expected.

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Agriculture: Commission adopts measure to increase cash flow to farmers

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The European Commission has adopted a measure allowing farmers to receive higher advances of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments. This measure will support and increase the cash flow to farmers affected by the COVID-19 crisis and by the impact of adverse weather conditions across the EU. Some regions have been deeply affected by floods, for instance.

The measure will allow member states to pay income support and certain rural development schemes to farmers with a higher level of advances, up to 70% (from 50%) of direct payments and 85% (from 75%) of rural development payments. The safeguards to protect the EU budget apply, so the payments can be disbursed once controls and checks have been finalised and as from 16 October 2021 for the direct payments. The European Commission has provided support to the agri-food sector throughout the COVID-19 crisis through increased flexibility and specific market measures. More information here.

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