21st Sep 2023

With war raging, a push to roll back green farming

  • The calls to revise EU legislation follow what campaigners say has been an intensive lobby campaign by pro-pesticide farming lobbies (Photo: Jan Fidler)
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With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, concern over food security inside and outside the EU have been on the rise — along with the cost of a weekly trip to the supermarket.

But now there are concerns, too, that the issue is being used by industry groups and conservative lawmakers to try to roll back flagship EU environmental policies.

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In particular some conservative lawmakers on the European Parliament's agriculture committee are calling on the European Commission to revise the EU's farm-to-fork and biodiversity strategy by postponing legislative initiatives on pesticides and on restoration of natural spaces.

The lawmakers also have prepared a resolution on the impact of the war for food security, formally asking the commission to postpone environmental targets in the Farm to Fork strategy.

The resolution is expected to go to a vote at a parliament plenary meeting in Brussels on 23 March, and although such resolutions are non-binding, they can ramp up pressure on regulators.

The pressure is such that the EU commissioner for agriculture went before lawmakers on Thursday (17 March) to defend the green transition on everything from energy and farming, as a way to foster food security rather than diminish it.

The invasion of Ukraine had created a "very serious problem" for EU farmers, in particular livestock farmers, Janusz Wojciechowski acknowledged to MEPs in a committee debate.

Even so, he said, "we can't just drop everything we've already tried to develop for sustainable development of farming in the future."

Pursuing the green policy agenda would help "resilient agriculture" and "respect the environment," he said.

The calls to revise EU legislation follow what campaigners say has been an intensive lobby campaign by pro-pesticide farming lobbies that have been taking advantage of the current geopolitical situation to press their case.

To be sure, food prices were already high before Russia invaded Ukraine.

But the conflict has led to a shock in global markets given the importance of Russia and Ukraine as major global exporters of livestock feed such as barley, wheat, maize and sunflower seeds, as well as fertilisers.

Globally, maize and wheat prices in March have soared by 43 percent and 83 percent, respectively, compared to the same period last year.

The conflict is likely to result in a steep reduction in grain and seed exports that could push up food and feed prices even further and millions at risk of severe hunger, the UN has warned.

With war threatening food supplies worldwide, G7 agriculture ministers have called on countries to keep markets open, and avoid unjustified food export bans.

Wojciechowski, the agriculture commissioner, said the EU was trying to find a route from Poland to relieve Ukrainian farmers, who are facing shortages of fuel for the upcoming sowing season.

In addition, he said, the European Commission would come forward with a set of proposals aimed at tackling difficulties in supply chains from countries including Ukraine.

"We need to implement policies that are going to guarantee food security for all citizens in the European Union," he said.

The measures would include intervention in the pig meat sector; the use of €500m in EU funds from a so-called crisis reserve; and a special derogation to use fallow land to grow protein crops.

Wojciechowski's proposals would also allow EU countries to spend more on fertilisers without breaking the bloc's anti-subsidy rules.

Opportunistic lobby tactics

But on Thursday, there was more blowback from lawmakers who want to compromise on Europe's green agenda.

Centre-right Spanish MEP Juan Ignacio Zoido called on the EU to change the targets and timetable of the environmental strategies.

Zoido said the Union was founded to provide food supplies to all after World War II, and that "food security should still be one of the main pillars" of what the EU does.

That message was echoed by the Austrian MEP Simone Schmiedtbauer, who said revisions were necessary to ensure food supplies in Europe and beyond.

The calls to revise EU legislation follow an lobby campaign by a pesticide industry lobby group, CropLife Europe, according to internal documents obtained by the Brussels-based lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO).

"It is very cynical that EU-politicians are increasingly joining the attack on the EU Farm to Fork targets by using the Ukraine war and looming food crisis as an argument," said Nina Holland, a campaigner at CEO.

CropLife Europe and its members, including producers of pesticides like Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, and Corteva, "will continue to address the implications of the war on European food security, as a matter of urgency," the group said in a statement on its website.

The measures include making deliveries to Ukrainian farmers to help them with their crops and harvest, it said.

Other farming lobbies groups in France and Brussels also have stepped up their criticism of the Green Deal, according to green groups.

"The European farm lobby has wasted no time to exploit this tragedy for their own economic gain," said the environmental organisation BirdLife, referring to the war in Ukraine.

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