Ukrainian crisis : investments in the bioeconomy provide a lasting solution

Structural changes call for structural responses. The stronger tights between Ukraine and the EU are here to stay. It is very likely that new processing capacities will be needed to valorise agriculture commodities that will be attracted by the EU market, depending on global markets and transport costs developments. This new reality calls for a new direction to be given to the Green Deal. A new impetus to the bioeconomy in the EU would not only strengthen strategic productions (food, feed, biofuels, biomaterial, etc.) and help stabilising agricultural markets, but also provide a long term support to Ukraine economy and democracy. 

Imports of grains from Ukraine into neighbouring EU countries have disrupted local markets, pushing farmers to ask for an end of duty-free imports, and some countries to follow suit and block them. The crisis has raised shock waves in Brussels, as the well-justified support to the Ukrainian economy, victim of the Russian aggression, created a large movement of opposition to one of its key components – the temporary abolition of all custom duties.

The Commission attempted to compensate the affected farmers with a first additional support package through the CAP crisis reserve, but quickly enough a second and larger package was deemed necessary. Despite throwing resources to calm the protests, calls for an application of safeguard clauses are still on the table.

The competitiveness of Ukrainian wheat, maize, sunflower and barley (to mention only a few sectors), is well known. Already more than 20 years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the USSR, Ukrainian imports of wheat were coming into the European Union, even after paying the full import taxes. That situation led the European Union to renegotiate its external protection for wheat in the WTO, raising the duties applied.

Ukrainian exports suffered with the Russian aggression, dropping in the case of maize from the highs of 27 million tonnes in 2021/22 to a forecast of 20 million tonnes in the current campaign, on wheat from around 19 to 15 million tonnes, and on barley from around 6 to 3 million tonnes in the same campaign years. However, despite the fall in exports, the opening of alternative trade routes to the traditional Black Sea made large quantities of Ukrainian grains available in the EU neighbouring countries.

The root causes of the problem will not go away. EU markets are more attractive to Ukrainian exports than far away markets in developing countries. Even when the war is over, and hopefully Ukraine starts recovering from the wounds, it is likely that the European Union will extend forms of financial, economic and trade support for a large period, also in view of a possible accession of Ukraine to the EU.

Therefore, the EU should figure out lasting solutions to the Ukrainian grain imports, instead of pilling up compensation package after compensation package. Boosting the bioeconomy could provide a long-lasting solution to the additional availability of grains beneficial for global food security. 

Incentivizing investments in bioeconomy could add value to maize, wheat, barley and sunflower production to mention a few, into high value and much needed proteins, energy and all kinds of biomaterials. Those products are highly needed to overcome the challenges of food security and environmental transitions, while at the same time stabilizing agricultural markets. This would benefit global food security as imports from Ukraine would reduce the overall EU footprint on other markets, notably soy from South America. 

In the first five months of 2023, the European Union imported roughly the same amount of grains from Ukraine as in the entire pre-war campaign. This, despite the war’s impact on Ukrainian agriculture. A large share of this grain face difficulties to be re-exported to global markets, as is already the case with Central European countries’ production. Logistic challenges in this part of Europe are not new.

The European Union needs to set up new processing capacities to valorise an additional production coming from Ukraine on a structural basis, that will otherwise weight yearly on the EU market, especially considering further integration of the Ukrainian economy to the internal market. 

Short-term measures triggered by the EU won’t be enough to address a structural challenge. Indeed, the lack of effective market mechanism tools currently included in the Common Agricultural Policy to cope with market disturbance is plain to see. This should press the European Union to rethink its agricultural policy to provide more teeth to its economic levers. However in the current situation no market measure will compensate a structural shift in market reality. Structural changes call for structural responses. 

In a context where high-value food, feed, energy, and biomaterials is increasingly strategic, the EU should not delay launching a new wave of investments in these sectors. This effort should provide a new direction to the Green Deal’s approach, promoting sustainable growth for agriculture and related sectors. 

Included within the current Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the European Union has room for maneuver to incentivize bioeconomy that produce at the same time a wide range of food, feed, biofuels and biochemical products. Today, the percentage of crop-based biofuels in the transport energy mix in the EU hovers below 5%, whereas the RED accepts a higher limit of 7% to be accounted for the EU renewable energy mandates. Ambitious climate targets calls for higher contribution from agriculture in the decarbonation effort of the economy. 

The recent Council Conclusions  “on the opportunities of the bioeconomy in the light of the current challenges with special emphasis on rural areas”, on the initiative of the Swedish Presidency, “emphasises the role of a sustainable and circular bioeconomy in dealing with climate, biodiversity, energy and food security issues, as well as its potential to diversify income, create jobs in rural and coastal areas, and support the EU’s green transition and increased resilience.”

This political will should lead to actual investments. The Commission should facilitate the process through policies that encourage investment in the bioeconomy, without excluding any sectors that might contribute. Particular attention should be made not to hamper investments through ill-conceived taxonomy regulations. Member States should establish national mandates and policies that foster these investments.

Let us react to the present crisis to bring forward-looking and lasting solutions, mobilising the EU investment capacities to trigger a surge of the EU bioeconomy. This would also provide a long term support to the Ukrainian economy and democracy. 

Are anti-erosion measures fair play for farmers in Wallonia?

In response to criticisms related to the complexity of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its disconnection from reality, the European Commission has proposed the implementation of national strategic plans, leaving it up to the Member States (or regions) to define the details of the measures to be implemented for farmers to get direct payments. This is a key feature of the new CAP, with serious impacts on the level playing field at EU level for farmers. The implementation of GAEC5 is shedding lights on this new reality, with farmers in Wallonia paying the high price.

Articles 12 and 13 of Regulation 2021/2115 of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) deal with conditionality, i.e., the set of obligations relating to good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAEC) that farmers must comply with to access funds from the first pillar of the CAP. The national plans submitted by the Member States must specify the details of these measures, indicating concretely how they intend to apply them to their farmers. Although this new approach, initially presented as a common-sense evolution in response to the failure of multiple attempts to simplify the CAP, it nonetheless presents a major obstacle. As far as basic aid is concerned, it places European farmers in the face of variable rules, with sometimes strongly divergent economic and agronomic impacts.

Each of these GAEC measures aims to address common environmental, health or animal welfare challenges, with the ambition of having a positive impact on a very large scale across the entire territory of the European Union, mobilizing a collective effort of all EU farmers. These actions must complement other specific measures and financed within the framework of eco-schemes or agro-environmental measures. All national (or regional) strategic plans are known. Even, many Member States are already preparing to adjust their initial plan, with the insights of one year of implementation. It is therefore useful to examine the details, analyzing not only their but also their socio-economic impacts. It appears that national or regional administrations are sometimes just as – if not more – creative than the European administration in terms of complexity, sometimes leaving farmers isolated in the face of an increased risk of inequitable treatment, without any real European debate.

In this regard, the analysis of GAEC 5 is particularly significant. Faced with the important challenge of soil erosion, the cross-compliance rule in the EU regulation states that it is necessary to “manage soil work in order to reduce the risk of degradation and erosion, taking into account the slope.” The objective to be pursued is that of “minimal land management reflecting specific local conditions in order to limit erosion.”

It plays an important role at the European level, alongside GAEC 4 and 6, in combating this phenomenon that affects the long-term fertility of soils. All other parameters are now the responsibility of the Member States or regions. They are the subject of the comparative study below. Previously, despite some flexibility, most of the details were fixed by a delegated act of 2014, which established the basic principles of minimum soil cover, the minimum area of farms that must be covered to comply with this GAEC, crop rotation or reduced tillage.

The challenge of erosion throughout the European Union

It is important to recall that erosion is a challenge affecting all regions of the European Union, without exception, as shown by the recently published data from the Joint Research Centre in the context of discussions on soil strategy. By far, the most significant vector of soil erosion, both quantitatively and geographically, is water. This affects most Member States, with a stronger impact on Mediterranean countries and Central European countries. Erosion caused by ploughing also has a very large geographical impact, affecting all Member States, with a lesser impact in part of Belgium, the Netherlands, some regions in northern Germany and Poland.

As for wind erosion or erosion caused by harvesting, they are indeed more localised: the former occurs on the northwest coast, some regions of the Black Sea, southern Italy, or northern Spain, and the latter occurs in crop areas where uprooting is involved. The latter represents a much smaller part of the erosion phenomenon at the EU level. Measures planned under GAEC5 have limited relevance regarding harvest erosion. Combating this requires technical means aimed at limiting the amount of soil carried away during the harvesting of potatoes or beets through gentle digging or the use of specific conveyor belts.

Diverging ways to define targeted areas

In the case of Wallonia, the GAEC5, which determines the granting of all aid to farmers, is particularly detailed and expensive. Wallonia’s approach is very different from that of the majority of other Member States. We will analyse it in detail.

One substantial difference lies in the criteria used by Member States to define the areas to take specific actions. The vast majority of Member States (BG, EE, EL, ES, FR, HR, IT, CY, LV, LT, HU, MT, PL, PT, SI) only mention the “slope” of the soil as a criterion for defining intervention areas and almost always refer to areas with a slope greater than 10%.

Regarding other national plans, the criteria are, however, different. Generally, they are related to differentiated slopes or measures that apply to all areas, regardless of their erosion risk.

For example, Austria’s strategic plan refers to a soil slope greater than 10% but also prohibits agricultural machinery from working on frozen, water-saturated, flooded, and snow-covered soil. Ireland refers to slopes greater than 15% and 20%, but also proposes criteria for all meadows. Plowing of all meadows is prohibited between October 16th and November 30th. For the Netherlands, measures exist for slopes greater than or equal to 2% and greater than 18%. And for Slovakia, specific measures for areas severely threatened by water or wind erosion are mentioned, without specifying criteria. The measures apply to slopes greater than 3%. Finland, Denmark, and Sweden introduce criteria related to the proximity of soils to watercourses.

The Wallonia Region, on the other hand, stands out for its approach. It identifies three zones (high erosion risk, very high erosion risk, extreme erosion risk) using an equation based on the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE), which takes into account the following factors: the rainfall erosivity index, the soil erodibility index characteristic of the soil type and its properties, and the topographical factor combining slope length and steepness.

The only national plans that, along with Wallonia, identify different territorial zones with differentiated erosion risks based on multiple criteria are those of Flanders, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Czech Republic. However, these Member States use this tool with significant differences to be taken into account compared to the plan of Wallonia.

The strategic plan of the Flemish Region also provides that “the sensitivity to erosion of a plot is determined based on a calculation model of the average annual potential erosion per hectare using the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE). Thus, slope, slope length, and soil type are taken into account. There are six erosion sensitivity classes: very high (purple), high (red), medium (orange), low (yellow), very low (light green), and negligible (green). But the impact of this formula in Flanders is marginal compared to that for Wallonia, according to the respective simulations carried out by the Wallonian (FWA) and Flemish (Boerenbond) agricultural organisations (1).

The German strategic plan delegates the designation of erosion risk zones to the Länder, based on uniform criteria, such as soil erodibility factor, slope factor, rainfall and surface runoff erosion factor, and wind erosion risk. The Czech strategic plan identifies several erosion risk zones based on the following criteria: slope length and steepness, structure and texture of the arable layer, soil organic matter content, soil erosion sensitivity, protective effect of vegetation, effectiveness of anti-erosion measures, and soil profile permeability.

Finally, the Luxembourg strategic plan uses a methodology based on multivariate statistical learning (machine learning) for arable land for classifying erosion risk zones. The calculation of potential erosion from RUSLE is only used for grasslands. In addition, there are measures for all agricultural land, for example, existing retention terraces must be maintained on the entire UAA (in arable land, permanent grassland, and permanent crops).

Ambition divide: various approaches for the same measure

As for intervention measures, there are numerous ones. The most common ones are related to soil work restrictions, such as the prohibition of plowing during certain periods. Twenty national plans provide for such measures (AT, BE-FL, BE-WA, CZ, DE, DK, EE, IE, FR, IT, CY, LT, LU, HU, MT, NL, RO, SI, SK, SE). In addition, 13 strategic plans (AT, BG, DE, EE, EL, ES, FR, HR, LV, MT, PL, PT, RO) include measures on the orientation of soil work relative to slope. Twenty-three strategic plans (AT, BE-FL, BE-WA, BG, CZ, DE, DK, EE, IE, EL, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, LU, HU, NL, PL, SI, SK, FI, SE) include measures related to vegetation cover.

In addition to these common measures, many Member States or regions are identifying other measures to combat soil erosion. For example, the “anti-erosion strip”. Denmark, Finland and Sweden refer to a buffer strip along watercourses with a ban on fertilisation, spraying, and soil work on a minimum width of three meters (six for Sweden), a measure that also meets GAEC4, but which they also consider as an anti-erosion measure. Germany and the Czech Republic mention buffer strips as an anti-erosion measure, but do not specify their length, with Germany leaving the details of the measures to the Länder. The Luxembourg strategic plan provides for the mandatory installation (except in the case of meadows) of anti-erosion grass strips with a minimum width of 3 meters in areas with a high and medium risk of erosion. France and Austria also provide for vegetated strips, with a minimum width of 5 meters in both cases, as an anti-erosion measure.


The analysis of the 28 strategic plans of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) shows that only the Walloon and Flemish plans mobilise for all agricultural land in their region the RUSLE mapping methodology to target the implementation of GAEC5. Flanders is less concerned with this mapping, given the strong topographical differences with Wallonia.

These two plans also stand out for the size of the buffer strips, which can be up to 9 meters. The impact of the targeting methodology of the plots excluding most Flemish farmers from the system means that the choices made in implementing GAEC5 in Wallonia put farmers in a unique position in Europe of competition distortion compared to other European farmers, including those in very similar regions.

This is despite the fact that it is a cross-compliance measure that impacts all CAP support, not just a specific measure that is subject to ad hoc compensation or incentive. While the options taken by some Member States can be explained by particular agronomic, climatic or topographic conditions, it is difficult to single out Wallonia to justify such a difference in approach in the implementation of this GAEC.

The expected impact in Wallonia is disproportionate compared to the impact of the same measure elsewhere in the European Union. However, unlike agri-environmental measures or eco-schemes, it does not involve additional remuneration to compensate for these distortions. It is mandatory for all farmers concerned, and not just targeted to those who wish to engage in practices on a voluntary and specifically remunerated basis.


The EC’s February positioning over the regulation on NGTs triggered contrasting reactions across European Countries and different sectors. Scientists believe they will help facing the environmental and food security challenges. Some ministers are worried on their impact on small farmers and firms.

On the other hand, the UK adopted the Precision Breeding Bill, which will allow the country to move forward in NGTs research and development, ensuring its competitive advantage on the international market.

Outside Europe, the US are expecting higher government investments on Biotechnologies, while Brazil and Indonesia approved the import and production of BH4 wheat.

Full note available at Farm Europe’s Members site

Cell-based products : Novel Food Regulation is not fit for purpose

Prior to any step forward at EU level on cellular food products a serious work should be launched to identify all the potential risks that are still unclear. At least the risks are clearly closer to the pharmaceutical world than food products. The evaluation by public authorities shall not be limited to the final product, but instead must cover the full process, which makes the Novel Food regulation not fit for purpose.

The draft own-initiative report by MEP Emma Wiesner (Renew Europe) has caught most of her colleagues in the European Parliament by surprise, planting the subject of cell-based food high on her wish-list to address the EU’s protein autonomy challenge alongside more positive elements like the synergies between protein and bioenergy production, which are important to underline. 

The Swedish MEP believes that “cell-based agriculture and seafood are promising and innovative solutions”, suggesting that “innovative cell-based foods can help increase protein production and complement agriculture”. Therefore, for the MEP, the marketing process “should be based solely on the safety of the product” under the Novel Food Regulation, which should itself be simplified to speed up the authorisation process and thus encourage innovation.

In this context, European elected representatives will have to quickly shape their opinion on a complex subject that touches on a multitude of ethical, environmental, technological, economic and of course health dimensions. 

They will have to take a position while cell culture processes are still at an emerging step, in a test phase to move from the laboratory to the industrial scale, without any clarity on the chances to succeed safely for consumers. It is therefore essential to mobilise thinking to bring rational elements to a debate that is really taking food into hitherto unknown and uncertain territory.

What are we talking about? 

There are many processes and variants for cell culture. Most of them are laboratory production processes for food and other animal products. Starting with a sample of animal cells taken from muscle or embryos of living animals and placed in a nutrient-rich medium, the cell tissue is grown under controlled conditions in bioreactors to develop into muscle, fat or other tissue cells to form conglomerates of animal cells and other animal products (such as leather, gelatine, collagen) (Warner, 2019). 

The medium, in which the cells are grown, is synthesised from fetal bovine serum, although currently many companies are attempting to develop animal-free serum options for cost and ethical reasons. The cells are then harvested and aggregated or processed to give the product its final formulation. 

After seeing these products as a potential answer to the climate challenge a decade ago, the latest scientific studies are much more cautious about any benefits, given the multiple sources of pollution and the amount of energy required. In most cases, livestock farming requires more land, but less energy, chemicals or plastics, for example, not mentioning hormones. This is all the more true since the comparative impact analyses initially carried out by the cellular meat sector fail to take into account in a serious manner the co-products or co-benefits associated with breeding on the one hand, and the issues associated with a possible transition to the industrial phase on the other. 

What is the status of their development? 

It might sound like science fiction for most EU citizens. But since the first synthetic burger was presented to BBC viewers in August 2013, cell culture has become a reality both in terms of product development and influential economic ecosystem. In December 2020, Singapore became the first country to allow synthetic imitation chicken meat onto the market. A first step was also taken in the US when the Food and Drug Administration completed its pre-market consultation in November 2022. 

Nevertheless, the transition to industrial scale remains a challenge, despite the significant financial investments already made by market players. The transition from the laboratory stage to large-scale development lines is far from complete, and the control of cell variability in non-“natural” atmosphere is not guaranteed. The development of “culture medium” – most often today fetal serum – which represents a significant cost, remains unresolved, as do ethical questions. The energy costs associated with these culture processes remain extremely high. 

There are many initiatives underway to produce imitations not only of products such as meat or milk, but also of breast milk, egg white, foie gras, oils, leather, gelatine and collagen, caviar, seafood, chocolate and coffee. 

What legislative authorisation process should apply in the EU? 

Currently, cell-based products can fall under either the Novel Food Regulation (EU/2015/2283), which specifically mentions cell culture, or the Genetically Modified Food and Feed Regulation 1829/2003. EU law defines a novel food as “any food which was not used for human consumption to any significant degree within the Union before 15 May 1997”, the date on which the Novel Foods Regulation entered into force. The regulation further specifies that novel foods can be newly developed food, innovative food, food produced using new technologies and production processes, as well as food that is or has been traditionally consumed outside the EU. 

The Novel Food process usually takes between 18 and 24 months, but can take longer as in the case of Chia seeds, for which the UK authorities’ application to the Commission in 2004 was successful in 2009. The European Food Safety Authority plays a key role in this. 

While a representative of the European Commission indicated at an event in the European Parliament on 13 July 2022 that cellular products should follow the Novel Food Regulation, this analysis is far from unanimous, due to the multitude of questions raised by those disruptive products. Some experts believe that the GMO regulation is much more appropriate, as most of the time the manufacturing process involves genetically modified organisms. Furthermore, given their proximity to pharmaceutical products, the question of pre-clinical and clinical studies to be carried out prior to any marketing, as for new drugs, could arise. This is all the more true as the risks themselves have not yet been fully identified. 

Towards a specific framework yet to be developed? 

“While many risks are already well known and exist in conventionally produced foods, it may be necessary to focus on materials, inputs, ingredients (including potential allergens) and equipment specific to the production of cell-based foods,” note the WHO and the FAO in its first large-scale analysis of the issues related to cell-based products, published on 5 April. This analysis highlights specific risks to be taken into account that bring cell-based products closer to biotechnologies, cloned products or gene therapies in the field of human health. This is particularly the case for new toxins or allergens, used at the cell production stage, and for the structural or chemical stability of the genetic material used, a risk associated with all biotechnologies used in the food field. 

“There is currently a limited amount of information and data on the food safety aspects of cell-based foods to help regulators make informed decisions,” say the FAO and WHO, whose analyses are limited to health issues, for which they call for more international cooperation and transparency. Moreover, these international agencies do not address the ethical, economic or commercial issues raised by these new products, such as the question of patenting life forms, which remains a particularly sensitive issue in the strategic field of food. 

It is clear that all the risks linked to the health safety of the final products and the stability of the production processes themselves lead the scientists involved in the evaluation into unknown territory. 

Before concluding on the need to accelerate the pace, as suggested in the draft report on the European protein strategy currently under discussion in the European Parliament, it would be better instead of taking the time to assess all the challenges raised by cellular agriculture, including the head-on collision with food systems based on natural cycles. An in-depth study of the impacts of scaling up, and all the industrial processes and consumption that this would entail, seems absolutely essential. Moreover, the FAO and the WHO are being particularly cautious. At the very least, an analysis, followed by an in-depth and transparent reflection on an ad hoc analysis framework should be envisaged by the European Commission before any approval process is launched.

Mercosur: EU farmers would be exposed to more unfair competition

The draft Protocol proposed by the European Commission doesn’t provide answer to the actual environment and climate concerns on the Mercosur deal, and much less in attempting to establish a level playing field for EU farmers. Vague political declarations seem to be what’s on the table. Will they suffice to convince the European Parliament and the Council?

The European Commission is known to be seeking an additional Protocol with Mercosur that would accommodate the European Parliament and Council concerns on the lack of strong environmental and climate provisions in the deal. Without further assurances the political process of ratifying the deal was actually frozen.

A leaked draft of that Protocol, labelled “EU-Mercosur Joint Instrument”, sheds light on the approach being followed by the Commission.

The draft consists on a recollection of previous international commitments of all parties; it lists a set of general good intentions with regard to the environment and to fighting climate change; it sets a single new non-binding target on the reduction of deforestation (-50% by 2025), without any proper independent verification process; and, last but not least, it lacks any enforcement mechanisms whatsoever.

What would be the real value of this Protocol? What is the added value in recalling international commitments? To which extent, if any, would that add to the existing commitments? What are general good intentions worth, without targets, and without any enforcement provisions? Even on the well-known problem of deforestation, what does the draft Protocol add to the provisions of the recently adopted EU Regulation on imported deforestation? Does an aspirational, non-binding target assuage widespread concerns on the preservation of the Amazon? If there are no enforcement mechanisms, to which extent are the good intentions and declarations more than empty words?

It is crucial however to put the current on-going negotiations on the additional Protocol in the right context.

The negotiated EU-Mercosur deal between the Commission and the Mercosur countries was already seen as too weak on environmental and climate protection. Since then the Commission has embarked in a set of proposals – the Green Deal – that are piling up new restrictions and obligations on EU farmers: the SUR proposal to reduce by 50% the use of chemical pesticides; the IED, Directive on industrial emissions, encompassing a large part of the EU livestock production; the proposals on mandatory reductions on chemical fertilisers, and on setting aside land for biodiversity; the additional efforts asked to the agricultural sector to reduce GHG emissions.

Does the draft Protocol address any of the new environmental and climate measures proposed? Does it attempt to set-up real “mirror clauses” on imports from Mercosur? 

We see none of it. The application of the deal would thus lead to increased unfair competition for EU farmers. They would face higher costs, lower profitability, as a result of the Commission Green Deal proposals, that their Mercosur competitors would not. The situation today is worse for the EU agriculture sector than when the negotiation was finalised in 2019, but the draft Protocol bluntly ignores that fact.

Inevitably, if that were to be the case, imports from the Mercosur would further increase with regard to earlier forecasts. EU agriculture production would decrease, and EU consumption would be satisfied by more imports produced under much lower environmental and climate standards. EU farmers would be worse-off with no world climate benefit.

This draft Protocol doesn’t provide answer to the actual environment and climate concerns on the deal, and much less in attempting to establish a level playing field for EU farmers. Vague political declarations seem to be what’s on the table. 

Will they suffice to convince the European Parliament and the Council?

EU food sovereignty & farm resilience: hot issues under negotiations

The first couple of months of 2023 had to face the consequences of the on-going invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the energy crisis and the inflation rate which heavily affected prices further leveraging the consumers’ purchasing power. 

In this context, the issues of pesticides, European sovereignty over fertilisers and the European Union’s protein strategy are being increasingly debated, particularly in the European Parliament. The repercussions of the war in Ukraine for European farmers in the countries bordering Ukraine require both urgent responses and the structuring of sectors, and therefore investments that are cruelly lacking in these Member States.

New Genomic Techniques: increased investments at global level

The EC’s February positioning over the regulation on NGTs triggered contrasting reactions across European Countries and different sectors. Scientists believe they will help facing the environmental and food security challenges. Some ministers are worried on their impact on small farmers and firms. 

On the other hand, the UK adopted the Precision Breeding Bill, which will allow the country to move forward in NGTs research and development, ensuring its competitive advantage on the international market. 

Outside Europe, the US are expecting higher government investments on Biotechnologies, while Brazil and Indonesia approved the import and production of BH4 wheat. 

Full note available at Farm Europe’s Members site

Biofuels remain the main lever for real transport decarbonisation

A final agreement was reached on March 30th between the European Parliament and Council on the Renewable Energy Directive’s revision. This agreement confirms the strategic importance of agricultural biomass in delivering the EU’s climate ambition alongside other renewables. It represents stability for crop-based biofuels, which are currently the main contributors to transport decarbonisation, together with a higher overall level of ambition. Unfortunately, these welcomed moves on up-ward climate objectives will be tempered by “paper-only decarbonisation” due to multipliers added by the co-legislator in favour of electro-mobility, which is the main weakness of the agreement. 

The EU renewable energy consumption target was raised to 42.5% by 2030 with an additional 2.5% “aspirational” non-binding ambition. A “supplement” that will not be reflected directly in States’ objectives and that will be discussed at a later stage in a technical trilogue. 

The transport sector in each Member State must reduce its GHG by 14.5% in 2030 or achieve a 29% renewable energy intensity.

RED3 also provides for 2030 a target of 5.5% combining green hydrogen and advanced biofuels consumed by the transport sector. 1% of this target must come from green hydrogen – or, more precisely, renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO), with some flexibilities for Member States with high low carbon electricity (nuclear) levels. Negotiations have long stalled on the issue of low-carbon hydrogen. 

The final deal confirms a certain level of flexibility for Member States on the Annex IX Part B 1.7% cap conditional to the Commission’s prior approval, which will be very important to avoid unsustainable development of Used Cooking Oil imports currently lacking traceability and controls. A Delegated Act could increase the cap if the Commission deems it necessary and finds there is enough available feedstock to do so, which will most probably be discussed in the context of the revision of Annex IX. 

Regarding the high iLUC definition, the European Parliament missed its ambition to include soy in the high iLUC definition alongside palm due to the fierce opposition from the European Commission based on WTO concerns. The EP did neither obtain a data revision every three years as foreseen earlier in the negotiation. Moreover, the European Commission will update the related Delegated Act “based on objective and scientific criteria, taking into consideration the Union’s climate targets and commitments, and proposing a new threshold where necessary based on the results of its review.” Further, the Commission should assess the possibility of designing an accelerated trajectory to phase out the contribution of such fuels to renewable energy targets so that the amount of greenhouse gas savings are maximised.”

The text maintains all the multipliers for electricity, aviation and maritime. Nevertheless, the fuel comparator, which further boosts “paper results” on the decarbonisation of e-mobility, might only be kept until 2030, and a new fuel comparator closer to actual fuel use in transport, still to be specified, should follow. 

Concerning the database, the EP amendment on public information on origin has been adopted in the text, which will be most welcome as soon as the European Commission sets up a practical database well integrated with national digital information tools. 

On wastes of non-feed or food origin, the GHG calculation remains as in RED2, i.e. their GHG emissions are considered at zero.

To conclude, the text maintains NUTS2 values. Annexes V and VI will be adapted accordingly considering that this option will remain as in RED2, complementary to actual values calculated at the farm level according to ESCA rules (Annex V). 

Ukraine: investments needed to overcome the food security challenge

The Russian unlawful attack on Ukraine in February 2022 and the following blockade of Ukrainian ports have severely affected global grain supply chains. With Ukraine being a major world exporter of corn, wheat, sunflower and barley, it was imperative for the international community to find solutions to get Ukrainian production out of the country in order to ensure global food security. The responses to this issue consisted in the set up of “solidarity lines” by the European Union in May 2022, followed by the implementation of the” Black Sea Grain Initiative” in July after an agreement between Ukraine, Russia and Turkey under the supervision of the United Nations. More than one year after the breaking of the war, this paper aims to evaluate the efficiency of these mechanisms, and to take stock of the dynamics of the Ukrainian grain market.

The European solidarity lanes

In response to Russia’s maritime blockade on Ukrainian ports, the EU mobilised in May 2022 the so-called “solidarity lanes”. The aim was to facilitate the export of Ukraine’s agricultural products to compensate as much as possible for the loss of sea routes.

In practice, it consisted in the search for other ways to export Ukraine’s agricultural products via alternative land routes and EU ports, and the set-up of better transport connections, faster customs operation and new storage on EU territory.
Since its first exports, the solidarity lanes have been able to unblock around 29 million metric tonnes of grain to be exported in the EU by road, rail or vessels using the Danube delta.

In the framework of the solidarity lanes, the EU market has opened to Ukrainian imports, resulting in an unprecedented flow of Ukrainians products to eastern Europe. This sudden and significant influx has created tension locally, as large quantities of grain flown in areas with limited storage capacities (compared to the new needs) and high logistic challenges to be overcome to export them while at the same time storing and transporting local productions. Confronted with this issue that affects the Member States differently in the single market, and having assessed the pressure on local prices from these tensions in the logistical chains from the increased transit of products from Ukraine, the Commission has proposed on 20 March an aid package of €56,3 million for farmers in the most affected countries by a drop of local market prices (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania). The payment is expected by 30 September 2023.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative

The Black Sea Grain Initiative is a mechanism implemented by Turkey, Russia and Ukraine under the United Nations supervision to create a grain corridor in the Black Sea. Signed on 27 July 2022, it allows ships to transport grain from three key Ukrainian ports – Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny – across the Black Sea after an inspection of the Joint Coordination Centre, a body created in the framework of the agreement. Before its entry into force, it was estimated that 22 million tons of grain were stuck in the Ukrainian ports due to the war.

Originally scheduled to run until November 2022, the agreement was first extended for 120 days before a second extension was announced on 18 March 2023. While the original agreement was supposed to extend the Initiative for another 120 days, Russia unilaterally decided to reduce this period to 60 days, warning that any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.

From its launch to 15 March 2023, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has resulted in the delivery of 927 vessels. Altogether, 45 different countries received over 24 million metric tonnes of grain and foodstuffs through this channel. The detailed country-by-country data can be found in the following table.

Destination countryN° of vessels receivedQuantity of grain exported
(thousands of metric tonnes)
The Netherlands391500
United Kingdom9197
Republic of Korea6326
Saudi Arabia4184
Viet Nam2117
Sri Lanka2104
Total EU countries3899 893
Total92724 654

Many third countries have a considerable reliance on Ukrainian grain. Indeed, the countries that have been found to have the highest dependency on Ukrainian and Russian wheat imports, and therefore to be the most vulnerable to these market disruptions, are Somalia (100%), Benin (100%), Laos (94%), Egypt (82%), Sudan (75%), DR Congo (69%), Senegal (66%) and Tanzania (64%). 

Ukraine also accounted for half of the supply of the United Nations World Food Programme before the war.

Share of grain exported in the framework of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (mid-March 2023)

In terms of exported cereals, maize accounts for almost half of the exports. This cereal has always been usually mostly exported to China and the EU (for example, it represented 62% of the maize exported shares in 2021 (USDA)). This explains the weight of these two blocs in the total export share. 

Wheat constitutes a quarter of the exported volume. It is usually exported to developing countries (notably Egypt, Indonesia and Bangladesh). Since the launching of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, two-thirds of the wheat was destined for developing countries, for which it is the most important and most needed food staple, representing 18.1% of the total shipments of the Black Sea Grains Initiative. Furthermore, it allowed the United Nations World Food Programme to restart shipping from Ukrainian ports, and more than 450 000 tonnes of wheat have been shipped to Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Data shows that the addition of the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and of the solidarity lanes initiative has effectively allowed Ukraine’s wheat and corn exports to recover.

Both are necessary to export quantities that are required to answer to world market demand. 

Estimate of the next harvest for 2023-2024

In 2021, the total land sown in spring amounted to 17 million hectares of crops in Ukraine. These pre-war sowings resulted in decent crops in 2022 despite the difficult conditions and loss of land. In contrast, in 2022 around 4 million hectares remained unplanted due to two main factors:

  • Losses of cultivable area due to the occupied territories or the fact that some land is too damaged by hostilities to be cultivated, or too dangerous
  • Poor profitability for producers: the efforts to facilitate the transportation of exports have resulted in higher costs. Exports by truck, rail or barge from the west are expensive, while long inspection times and associated demurrage charges have added significant costs to shipments through Black Sea ports. These costs have been largely absorbed by Ukrainian producers in the form of lower prices. Furthermore, the prices of input have risen, further reducing producers’ profit margins and discouraging them from planting for the coming year.

In result, Ukraine’s grain harvest could decline by 35-40 million tons in 2023, including 12-15 million tons of wheat and 15-17 million tons of corn, according to the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club.

For comparison purposes, the following graph shows Ukrainian maize, wheat and barley production over the last 10 years. 

In the future, wheat supplies for 2023/24 (composed of the year production and the stocks from the 2022/23 marketing year) are likely to be almost 30% below 2022/23 levels and 45% below 2021/22 level. 

Note that the 2021/22 harvest was an exceptional production year.

Concerning maize, the expected supplies for Ukraine for 2023/24 could be 36% below 2022/23 level and 53% below 2021/22 level.

The issue of storage

During summer 2022, the Ukrainian storage abilities were questioned, as the grain was accumulating and could not be delivered abroad. This issue has strongly decreased since the Black Sea Grain Initiative: actually, the high grain stocks allowed exports estimates to grow while production dropped.

Before the invasion, Ukraine was exporting nearly 80% of its corn crop annually, preventing large year-end stocks. The Russian blockade has forced Ukraine to stockpile: the USDA’s estimate for the 2022-23 corn ending stocks in Ukraine amounts to 6,9 million tonnes, up from 5,1 million the previous year. This is well above the norm, which averages 1,3 million tons. In addition, the stock-to-use for the year is estimated at 27%, compared to 4% before the war.

Concerning wheat, the USDA’s estimate for the 2022-23 wheat ending stocks in Ukraine amounts to 4,2 million tonnes, down from 6,8 million the previous years. Here again, the stock-to-use is well above the average of previous years.


The mechanisms set by the European Union and the United Nations have served their purpose in allowing the export of more than 54 millions tonnes of Ukrainian grain. However, the future of the Black Sea Grain Initiative – which has resulted in the export of 25 millions tonnes since August – is conditional on the goodwill of a Russia determined to use it as a leverage to negotiate an easing of Western sanctions toward it. 

Moreover, the disturbances created by the war are not limited to the Russian blockade. The harvest of 2022 benefited from the pre-war sowings and was therefore moderately affected by the events, but it will not be the same for future crops. The important stock gathered in 2022 mitigated the gap in the 2022/23 campaign as well. 

However, due to the direct and indirect effects of the war, production is expected to decline by 35 to 40 million tons in 2023, with shortfalls of 12 to 15 million tons of wheat and of 15 to 17 million tons of corn. The important stock gathered in 2022 mitigated the gap in the 2022/23 campaign, but in 2023/24 the fall of the production will inevitably affect the international market.

Lastly, with regard to the impact of the Ukrainian products on Eastern European markets, the recently proposed aid package by the Commission may alleviate the pressure for the local farmers. However, the encountered difficulties will remain in these countries, as they are symptomatic of a lack of investment in their infrastructures. It will therefore be crucial for them to be able to invest more in their storage capacities and in the performance of their supply lines on top of the already existing challenge of those countries to develop new outlets for their cereals in their own country, notably based on bio and circular economy


Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine- Export of Agriproduct 
United Nations- Vessel Movements – Black Sea Grain Initiative
OCHA- Black Sea Grain Initiative Vessel Movements – Humanitarian Data Exchange
Council of the European union – Food for the world
USDA- Report Name:Grain Update December 2022
USDA- Ukraine’s wheat and corn exports recover under Black Sea Grain Initiative
USDA- Report Name: Grain and Feed Annual 
USDA- Ukraine Agricultural Production and Trade 

POLITICO- Who’s feeding the world? We are, say both Ukraine and Russia, as war rages on POLITICO- Ukraine and UN call for Black Sea grain deal extension 
La France Agricole- Les exploitations ukrainiennes « devant un mur -»  
EURACTIV- Commission opens solidarity lanes to strengthen eu-Ukraine food export  
CNBC- Ukraine Black Sea grain deal extended for at least 60 days
Reuters- Column: Ukraine corn crop plunge balanced by huge stocks, aiding exports for now
Reuters- Column: More to Ukraine’s recent grain export success than meets the eye
IICA- Ukraine one year later: Impacts on global food security | IICA Blog

Innovation: the UK moves forward on precision breeding techniques

While the EU is waiting for the European Commission to publish its proposal on the legal framework for new genomic techniques (NGTs) next June 7, in the UK last March 23 the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act was passed after a process of about a year.  

Precision breeding involves using technologies such as gene editing to adapt the genetic code of organisms-creating beneficial traits in plants that, through traditional breeding, would take decades to achieve.

The Act emphasizes how these techniques will increase the sustainability of agriculture in the UK, for example, with drought- and disease-resistant crops, reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and help to breed animals protected from contracting harmful diseases.

Under the provisions of this Act, a new simplified, science-based regulatory system will be introduced to facilitate research and innovation in precision breeding, while stricter regulations for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will remain in place.

Unlike the European Commission’s intention, which is to limit its proposal to cisgenesis and targeted mutagenesis only for plants, the UK Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act covers both plants and precision-bred animals developed through techniques such as gene editing. The key element emphasized by the law is that, unlike GMOs, these techniques produce genetic changes that could have occurred through traditional breeding or that occur naturally.

The law passed is not the end of the process. The law itself provides a framework for more detailed implementing rules that will be introduced through secondary legislation in the coming months, to ensure measures that are proportionate to the scientific evidence of risk and similar to those currently applied to conventionally bred plant varieties.

The law includes the following elements :

– Exclude plants and animals produced through precision breeding technologies from the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) legislation.

-Introduce two reporting systems: one for precision organisms used for research purposes and the other for commercialization. The information collected will be published on a public register.

-Establish a proportionate regulatory system for precision-bred animals to ensure that animal welfare is safeguarded.

-Establish a new science-based approval process for food and feed derived from the use of precision-bred plants and animals.

At this stage (March 2023), the UK FSA (*) doesn’t “envisage that additional traceability requirement beyond those in General Food Law will be necessary.  However, further work will be undertaken as we develop policy to understand the trade and enforcement aspects, including how the Windsor Framework and UKIMA will operate in practical terms.

The Bill provides as well discretionary power for ministers to make regulations to require the FSA to establish and maintain a public register of information relating to precision-bred organisms (PBOs) authorized for use as food/feed in England. FSA underlines that a register could include, for example, information about the type and nature of the authorized PBO, any unique reference/identifier it has been given, links to the published scientific risk assessment, legislation by which the product has been authorized, etc. FSA’s consumer research indicates that consumers supported the idea of a register of PBOs.