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Opinion: How industry tries to water down risk assessment of pesticide mixtures in everyday food

EU Reporter Correspondent

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pesticide-sprayA 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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Agriculture

Commission extends flexibilities of Common Agricultural Policy checks for 2021

EU Reporter Correspondent

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With restrictions still in place across the EU, the Commission has adopted rules to extend to 2021 flexibilities for carrying out checks required for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support. The rules allow the replacement of on-farm visits with the use of alternative sources of evidence, including new technologies such as satellite imagery or geo-tagged photos. This will ensure reliable checks while respecting the restriction of movement and minimizing physical contact between farmers and inspectors.

Furthermore, the rules include flexibility around timing requirements for checks. This allows member states to postpone checks, notably to a period when movement restrictions are lifted. In addition, the rules comprise a reduction of the number of physical on-the-spot checks to be carried out for area and animal-related measures, rural development investments and market measures. These rules aim to ease the administrative burden of national paying agencies by adapting to current circumstances while still ensuring necessary controls for CAP support. More information on the CAP's management and control systems is available here. More information is also available here.

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Agriculture

Agriculture: Short-term outlook report favourable for EU agricultural sectors

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The Commission has published the latest short-term outlook report for EU agricultural markets. This regular publication presents a general and sector-by-sector overview of the latest tendencies and further prospects for agri-food markets. The first 2021 edition concludes that the EU agricultural sector has shown resilience throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The sector performed relatively well thanks to increased retail sales and home consumption.

In addition, prospects are favourable with a dynamic global demand and the reopening of food services (restaurants, bars, cafés) expected once the vaccination campaign is sufficiently advanced. Recent trade developments will reduce uncertainties around the EU's trade relations, benefitting agricultural sectors. Among those developments, the US and the EU have agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs related to the civil aircraft disputes early March 2021. In addition, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was concluded late 2020. Still, both sides will need time to adapt and provide necessary conditions for optimal trade exchanges. For full details concerning specific markets, see the news item and the report available online.

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Agriculture

European Green Deal: Commission presents actions to boost organic production

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Commission has presented an Action Plan for the development of organic production. Its overall aim is to boost the production and consumption of organic products, to reach 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030, as well as to increase organic aquaculture significantly.

Organic production comes with a number of important benefits: organic fields have around 30% more biodiversity, organically farmed animals enjoy a higher degree of animal welfare and take less antibiotics, organic farmers have higher incomes and are more resilient, and consumers know exactly what they are getting thanks to the EU organic logo. The Action Plan is in line with the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.

The Action Plan is designed to provide the already fast growing organic sector the right tools to achieve the 25% target. It puts forward 23 actions structured around three axes – boosting consumption, increasing production, and further improving the sustainability of the sector – to ensure a balanced growth of the sector.

The Commission encourages member states to develop national organic action plans to increase their national share of organic farming. There are significant differences between member states regarding the share of agricultural land currently under organic farming, ranging from 0.5% to over 25%. The national organic action plans will complement the national CAP strategic plans, by setting out measures that go beyond agriculture and what is offered under the CAP.

Promote consumption

Growing consumption of organic products will be crucial to encourage farmers to convert to organic farming and thus increase their profitability and resilience. To this end, the Action Plan puts forward several concrete actions aimed at boosting demand, maintaining consumer trust and bringing organic food closer to citizens. This includes: informing and communicating about organic production, promoting the consumption of organic products, stimulating a greater use of organics in public canteens through public procurement and increasing the distribution of organic products under the EU school scheme. Actions also aim, for example, at preventing fraud, increasing consumers' trust and improving traceability of organic products. The private sector can also play a significant role by, for example, rewarding employees with ‘bio-cheques' they can use to purchase organic food.

Increase production

Presently, about 8.5% of EU's agricultural area is farmed organically, and the trends show that with the present growth rate, the EU will reach 15-18% by 2030. This Action Plan provides the toolkit to make an extra push and reach 25%. While the Action Plan largely focuses on the “pull effect” of the demand side, the Common Agricultural Policy will remain a key tool for supporting the conversion. Currently, around 1.8% (€7.5 billion) of CAP is used to support organic farming. The future CAP will include eco-schemes which will be backed by a budget of €38-58bn, for the period 2023 – 2027, depending on the outcome of the CAP negotiations. The eco-schemes can be deployed to boost organic farming.

Beyond the CAP, key tools include organisation of information events and networking for sharing best practices, certification for groups of farmers rather than for individuals, research and innovation, use of blockchain and other technologies to improve traceability increasing market transparency, reinforcing local and small-scale processing, supporting the organisation of the food chain and improving animal nutrition.

To raise awareness on organic production, the Commission will organise an annual EU ‘Organic day' as well as awards in the organic food chain, to recognise excellence at all steps of the organic food chain. The Commission will also encourage the development of organic tourism networks through ‘biodistricts'. 'Biodistricts' are areas where farmers, citizens, tourist operators, associations and public authorities work together towards the sustainable management of local resources, based on organic principles and practices.

The Action Plan also notes that organic aquaculture production remains a relatively new sector but has a significant potential for growth. The upcoming new EU guidelines on the sustainable development of EU aquaculture, will encourage member states and stakeholders to support the increase in organic production in this sector.

Improve sustainability

Finally, it also aims to further improve organic farming's performance in terms of sustainability. To achieve this, actions will focus on improving animal welfare, ensuring the availability of organic seeds, reducing the sector's carbon footprint, and minimizing the use of plastics, water and energy.

The Commission also intends to increase the share of research and innovation (R&I) and dedicate at least 30% of the budget for research and innovation actions in the field of agriculture, forestry and rural areas to topics specific to or relevant for the organic sector.

The Commission will closely monitor progress through a yearly follow-up with representatives of the European Parliament, member states and stakeholders, through bi-annual progress reports and a mid-term review.

European Green Deal Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans said: “Agriculture is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and biodiversity loss is a major threat to agriculture. We urgently need to restore balance in our relationship with nature. This is not something farmers face alone, it involves the whole food chain. With this Action Plan, we aim to boost demand for organic farming, help consumers make informed choices, and support European farmers in their transition. The more land we dedicate to organic farming, the better the protection of biodiversity in that land and in surrounding areas.”

Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said: “The organic sector is recognised for its sustainable practices and use of resources, giving its central role in achieving the Green Deal objectives. To achieve the 25% of organic farming target, we need to ensure that demand drives the growth of the sector while taking into account the significant differences between each Member State's organic sectors. The organic Action Plan provides tools and ideas to accompany a balanced growth of the sector. The development will be supported by the Common Agricultural Policy, research and innovation as well as close cooperation with key actors at EU, national and local level.”

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “Organic farming provides many benefits to the environment, contributing to healthy soils, reducing pollution of air and water, and improving biodiversity. At the same time, with demand growing faster than production over the last decade, the organic sector brings economic benefits to its players. The new Organic farming Action Plan will be a crucial instrument to set the path to achieve the targets of 25% of agricultural area under organic farming and of significant increase of organic aquaculture enshrined in the Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork Strategies. In addition to that, the new Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture to be adopted by the Commission soon, will promote organic aquaculture further.”

Background

The Action Plan takes into account the results of the public consultation held between September and November 2020, which attracted a total of 840 replies from stakeholders and citizens.

It is an initiative announced in the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, published in May 2020. These two strategies were presented in the context of the European Green Deal to enable the transition to sustainable food systems and to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss.

In the recommendations to member states on their CAP strategic plans published in December 2020, the Commission included the target of a 25% organic area in the EU by 2030. member states are invited to set national values for this target in their CAP plans. Based on their local conditions and needs, member states will then explain how they plan to achieve this target using CAP instruments.

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 new CAP is built around nine objectives, which is also the basis upon which EU countries design their CAP strategic plans.

More information

The Action Plan for the development of organic production

Questions and Answers: actions to boost organic production

Factsheet on the organic sector

Farm to fork Strategy

Biodiversity Strategy

Organic farming at a glance

Common Agricultural Policy

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