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#Environment needs saving through innovation, not starvation

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As the winter times come closer, people resume their arguments about the thermostat at home. While there is great convenience that comes with heating, it also comes at an environmental cost. Environmental protection and development is, undoubtedly, both a necessary and noble cause, and while we may sometimes disagree with the fearmongering or reactionism that comes with eco-politics, it’s a wonderful thing to see consumer preferences gravitate towards greener alternatives, writes Bill Wirtz.

It is through changes in consumer attitudes that force innovations to become safer, more sustainable, and just generally ‘green-er’. The same however also applies to price: as companies attempt to reduce prices, their incentives force them towards the use of less energy. This is what we’ve seen happen to cars, which have seen fuel efficiency double since the 70s, or air travel, which has seen 45% less fuel burn since the 1960s.

The beauty of consumer-driven innovation is that it comes naturally through the marketplace. In the area of food, we’ve seen immense strives towards safer, more affordable, and less energy-consuming crops. With current agro-tech innovations, like through gene-editing, this becomes a promising prospect. However, the political world seems unimpressed with innovation, and more interested in reacting to fear-mongering. Nowhere are the dangerous effects of this felt more than in the developing world. Advanced countries with good intentions ignore the needs and abilities of poorer nations in the name of pretended environmental protection.

Take, for instance, a recent conference, jointly held in Kenya by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Preservation Center. The ‘First International Conference on Agroecology Transforming Agriculture and Food Systems in Africa’ aims to implement the policies of ‘Agroecology’ throughout the continent.

The “agroecology” touted by the conference refers to a more ‘organic’ style of farming, one that is free (or, at least, less dependent upon) synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. In many parts of Africa, where this conference had its attention, this could have devastating. It should come as no surprise that agroecological methods of farming are, typically far less efficient than the modern, mechanised alternative (a conclusion reached in a study performed by agroecological advocates).

On a continent that has long been plagued with poor economic growth and, far more seriously, severe famines and food shortages, taking the risk of switching to less-productive methods in the name of the environment would be blind to the necessities of a developing economy. Viewed simply, one could easily label this worldview and prescription as arrogant. If people in developed countries (or anywhere else for that matter) wish to establish an organic, agroecological farm to promote a more environmentally-friendly system, then more power to them. But we simply cannot expect this to apply to developing countries such as those in Africa. Bringing sustainable practices and technologies to the developing world should be achieved through increased scientific innovation, stimulating economic growth and development.

Following Brexit, the UK will be in an ideal position to do this without the restraints of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and biotech regulations, which has made trade with farmers in developing countries, as well innovative crops domestically, impossible to achieve. While the hearts of those arguing for “agroecology” are certainly in the right place, we need to understand that their suggestions threaten the chances of developing economies to grow and develop

Bill Wirtz is a senior policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.
Twitter: @wirtzbill

Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission publishes list of potential eco-schemes

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The Commission published a list of potential agricultural practices that eco-schemes could support in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Part of the CAP reform currently under negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council, eco-schemes are a new instrument designed to reward farmers who choose to go further in terms of environmental care and climate action. This list aims to contribute to the debate around the CAP reform and its role in reaching the Green Deal targets. This list also enhances transparency of the process for establishing the Strategic CAP Plans, and provides farmers, administrations, scientists and stakeholders a basis for further discussion on making the best use of this new instrument.

The future CAP will play a crucial role in managing the transition towards a sustainable food system and in supporting European farmers throughout. Eco-schemes will contribute significantly to this transition and to the Green Deal targets. The Commission published the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in May 2020. The Commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability. The European Parliament and Council agreed on their negotiating positions on the reform of the CAP on 23 and 21 October 2020, respectively, enabling the start of the trilogues on 10 November 2020. The Commission is determined to play its full role in the CAP trilogue negotiations as an honest broker between the co-legislators and as a driving force for greater sustainability to deliver on the European Green Deal objectives. A factsheet is available online and more information can be found here.

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Agriculture

Farm to Fork: Commission takes action to further reduce the use of dangerous pesticides

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As part of the EU's commitment to make food systems more sustainable and to protect citizens from harmful substances, the European Commission has today decided to withdraw Mancozeb from the EU market. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “The protection of citizens and the environment from dangerous chemicals is a priority for the European Commission. Reducing the dependency on chemical pesticides is a key pillar of the Farm to Fork strategy we presented last spring. We cannot accept that pesticides harmful to our health are used in the EU. Member states should now urgently withdraw all authorisations for plant protection products containing Mancozeb”.

Mancozeb is an active substance which is used in a number of pesticides in the EU. The proposal was supported by member states in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed in October. It follows the scientific assessment by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) which confirmed health concerns, in particular having a toxic effect on reproduction, and the protection of the environment. Mancozeb also has endocrine disrupting properties for humans and for animals. Member states will now have to withdraw authorizations for all plant protection products containing Mancozeb by June 2021.

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Agriculture

Commission approves €9.3 million Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in primary agricultural sector affected by coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved an approximately €9.3 million (HRK 70m) Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in certain primary agricultural sectors affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support, which will take the form of direct grants, will be open to breeders of cattle and sow as well as producers of apples, mandarins and potatoes in Croatia. The measure is expected to support more than 6,500 enterprises.  The aim of the scheme is to address the liquidity needs of enterprises that suffered a decrease in sales and to help them to continue their activities during and after the outbreak.

The Commission found that the Croatian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the aid will not exceed €100,000 per beneficiary, as provided by the Temporary Framework for undertakings in the primary agricultural sector; and (ii) the aid under the scheme can be granted until 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under the EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59815 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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