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EU’s Crisis Management Framework Must Prioritize Farmers Amidst Growing Challenges




At the recent Agrifish Council meeting on May 27, the European Union’s agriculture ministers underscored the urgent need to enhance crisis management tools for the agricultural sector, advocating for increased budgets and greater flexibility. This critical move, led by Belgian Agricultural Minister David Clarinval, aims to protect farmers from the myriad climatic, economic, and geopolitical risks they face. Clarinval emphasized the necessity for a resilient and forward-thinking crisis management system where research and innovation play pivotal roles.

This development is indeed timely. The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) currently provides a range of tools to assist farmers during crises, including support for diversification, derogations to competition rules, mutual funds, insurance support, public market intervention, and an annual €450 million crisis reserve. However, as recent discussions reveal, these measures may no longer suffice in the face of escalating challenges.

A Call for Enhanced Crisis Management

The Belgian presidency’s note, which initiated the ministers’ debate, highlighted the need to reassess and, if necessary, adapt the existing crisis management tools both within and outside the CAP. The European Milk Board’s protest in Brussels, demanding a permanent crisis mechanism to regulate milk production during oversupply, further underscores the urgency of this issue. This call echoes the temporary measures adopted during the 2016-2017 dairy crisis, which proved effective but are insufficient for long-term stability.

Increasing the budget for the crisis reserve is a pressing need. The current €450 million fund, activated for the first time in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is likely inadequate for future crises. Clarinval himself suggested a significant budget increase, highlighting the need for more robust financial support for farmers in distress.

Moreover, the concept of 'de minimis' aid, which allows member states to grant small-scale subsidies to farmers without notifying the Commission, is gaining traction. Currently capped at €20,000 per company over three years, there is strong support for raising this ceiling to €50,000, as suggested during the previous Agrifish Council meeting. This increase is crucial, given the rapid accumulation of crises that render the current ceiling ineffective.


Nutri-Score: A Distraction from Core Issues

While the focus on crisis management is a positive shift, it is essential to address another contentious issue that has diverted attention and resources: the harmonization of the Front of Pack (FOP) label. Nutri-Score is a front-of-pack label that uses a color-coded system to indicate the nutritional quality of food products, with the purported aim of helping consumers make healthier choices. However, it has been rightfully criticized for its inconsistent and often misleading algorithm, which fails to provide clear guidance and complicates shopping decisions for Europeans.

Portugal’s recent decision to renounce Nutri-Score, announced by José Manuel Fernandes, the country's new Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, marks a significant step towards reclaiming a transparent and effective food management system. This move follows similar actions by other European countries which have long opposed Nutri-Score for favoring over-processed products over traditional, quality foods. Nutri-Score’s simplistic approach often misleads consumers into thinking certain foods are healthier than they are, while penalizing traditional and often more nutritious options.

Italian Minister of Agriculture Francesco Lollobrigida hailed Portugal’s decision as a victory for transparency and consumer protection. The decline of Nutri-Score’s popularity in countries like France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, and Romania suggests a broader European rejection of the system.

It is high time for the EU to move away from labeling systems like Nutri-Score, which have proven to be ineffective. Instead, the focus should be on empowering consumers with the knowledge and resources they need to make informed dietary choices on their own. Trusting consumers to educate themselves and make healthy decisions without the need for oversimplified labels will promote a more genuine and lasting approach to healthier eating habits.

Towards a Sustainable Future for European Agriculture

The push for a more robust crisis management framework is a step in the right direction. Increasing the crisis reserve budget and raising the 'de minimis' aid ceiling are essential measures to provide immediate relief to farmers. However, these efforts must be complemented by long-term strategies that prioritize sustainable agricultural practices and innovation.

Investing in research and development to enhance agricultural resilience against climate change, developing insurance systems that offer comprehensive coverage, and fostering public-private partnerships to drive innovation are critical steps. The EU must also streamline its regulatory frameworks to support rapid response mechanisms during crises, ensuring that farmers receive timely and adequate support.

The recent discussions at the Agrifish Council underscore a growing recognition among EU ministers of the need to protect the agricultural sector from escalating crises. By prioritizing resilience and sustainability, the EU can ensure a stable and prosperous future for its farmers, reinforcing the agricultural sector's vital role in Europe’s economy and food security.

Ultimately, while enhancing crisis management tools is a positive development, the EU must maintain its commitment to transparency and innovation. This includes shifting away from flawed labeling systems like Nutri-Score to trusting consumers to make informed choices and empowering farmers with the resources they need to thrive. By addressing both immediate and long-term challenges, the EU can foster a more resilient and sustainable agricultural sector, capable of withstanding future crises and continuing to prosper in an increasingly complex global landscape.

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