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17th Jan 2022

Leaked: How farm lobby waged war on EU food reform

  • EU farmers' association Copa-Cogeca spent €1.7m to influence EU decision-making in 2019 alone (Photo: European Parliament)
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The EU's main agricultural lobby group has waged a campaign to weaken Europe's so-called 'Farm to Fork' strategy on sustainable food, according to internal documents seen by EUobserver.

The lobbying campaign, targeting MEPs in particular, has been slammed by civil society as a "massive disinformation campaign" aiming to undermine the ongoing legislative process, which was previously delayed due to the pandemic.

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Internal documents from the EU farmers' association Copa-Cogeca, leaked on Tuesday (12 October), revealed some of the agribusiness' "red lines" said to have been crossed by the strategy, as well as the group's lobbying tactics to influence public debate.

Copa-Cogeca has urged MEPs to postpone to November the parliamentary debate and plenary vote on the text, originally scheduled to take place on 21 October, in order to have more time to influence public debate.

They argued that this two-week extra period would be "critical" for their communications, based on the findings of a series of "impact studies", some of which were funded by industry players such as Brussels-based CropLife Europe.

For Célia Nyssens from the European Environmental Bureau, a Brussels-based NGO, the leaks showed how "the industrial agri-food lobby orchestrated a massive disinformation campaign to undermine the EU's sustainable food goals".

"They are shamelessly picking and choosing the studies, and within those studies the specific findings, which fit their agenda in order to convince MEPs to reject the EU Farm to Fork targets, which are direly needed to put agriculture on a sustainable path," she said.

MEPs are being asked to reject some compromise amendments, including provisions setting limits of sugars, fats and salt in processed food.

They are also being asked to discard labelling measures aimed at informing consumers of the nutritional qualities of food products, their origin, the sustainability and production methods used, and animal welfare implications.

Additionally, Copa-Cogeca wanted the removal of any reference to the risk of emerging zoonoses (animal-to-human disease transmission) resulting from industrial farming, as currently stated in the strategy presented by the European Commission last year.

However, the group's most important goal is to persuade MEPs to reject binding reduction targets for the use of pesticides and antibiotics in livestock farming (50 percent reduction by 2030) and use of fertilisers (20 percent reduction by 2030).

MEPs finally reached common ground over the more than 2,200 amendments to the report last month.

They pointed out that "these targets are well within reach," but they must be legally-binding and included in member states' national farming strategic plans.

Meanwhile, the leaked strategy also revealed how Copa-Cogeca planned to use its partnership with online European news journal Euractiv to gain exposure in the Brussels Bubble.

It spoke of a "Euractiv package of articles to explain the common elements between the different impact studies".

Euractiv could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

In 2019, Copa-Cogeca spent up to €1.7m to influence EU decision-making, according to the site lobbyfacts.eu.

Opinion

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

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