Informal Agri Council, Koblenz, August 31st – September 1st

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The German Presidency tabled a series of questions ahead of the meeting. The first set addresses the resilience of the food system in the face of this & future crises. The Presidency asks “In your opinion, what do we primarily need to change to make the food supply chain more resilient to crisis-related disruptions in the future? Do you see any need for action to strengthen the independence of food supply within the EU, ranging from inputs, production & processing to marketing?” The paper highlights increased consumer interest in the origin of products & a growing desire to buy locally produced food. Ministers were asked, “In your opinion, in which areas should the labelling of origin be improved first? How can better labelling help consumers without impeding the free movement of goods within the internal market & while being compliant with WTO rules?”

Authors underline that “expectations regarding animal-welfare friendly livestock husbandry have also grown,” which means that “many consumers wish food labelling to provide information on the welfare of the animals during husbandry, transport & slaughter.” Ministers were thus asked, “What does an EU-wide animal welfare label need to deliver? How should the label be structured? What criteria should the label be based on?” The Presidency goes on to animal transport, saying that conditions “must be improved.” It seeks responses from delegations as to what the EC needs to “implement so that animal transports can be carried out in an animal-friendly way? How do you see the future of animal transports?”

Throughout the meeting, German Farm Minister Julia Klöckner had stressed repeatedly the need to combine ecological resilience with economic & social factors, & she pointed out that all three had to be defined. She contrasted repeated reminders from Ministers of the need to preserve the Single Market, with increased interest in local & regional products. “If this happens again, how can we ensure free movement of labour?,” she asked as an example. “We need greater European autonomy on food supply”. “Rule-based international trade, an efficient single market and regional production cycles are all sides of the same coin”.

Klöckner also stressed the need for a “positive prospect” for farmers, with incomes guaranteed, or they were likely to stop farming. “In some areas, we need to invest more,” she said, raising the issues of the EU’s deficit in protein crops & its imports of veterinary medicines.

On EU origin labelling system, “a lot of colleagues thought this was important, but a lot stressed the importance of the Single Market,” (cf. Annex) while several had raised the issue of ambiguous or misleading origin labelling on blended honey. Klöckner also raised Berlin’s plan to introduce a Nutri-Score system of front-of-pack nutrition labelling.

On animal welfare, any welfare labelling scheme would have to be credible, with a scientific basis & be comprehensible by the consumer. “The labels should refer to a standard which is more than the minimum”. Ministers, Klöckner felt, had “taken a step forward,” on the issue. Regarding animal transport, Klöckner said she had emphasised the need for harmonised rules which would be enforced. “We shouldn’t transport animals to be slaughtered in third countries.” “The alternative is no more animal transport”.

In the margins of the meeting, the DE presidency showcased new technology in vineyards. The first day of the gathering centred around a visit to Winningen. The area’s “steep terraced vineyards” are “very labour intensive,” . This implies the need to provide the right conditions to encourage young farmers into the sector. Digitalisation is key, the Minister underlined, introducing a demonstration of the use of drones to apply plant protection products with greatly increased precision, their value in assessing, with heat sensing, crop development. Precision farming would be more environmentally friendly, but also reduce the workload of farmers.

Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski informed ministers that he is taking charge of drawing up a plan for ensuring food security during future crises. Food supply was “never really at risk,” but “uncoordinated measures by Member States to restrict the free movement of goods & persons put unnecessary pressure on our supply chains”.

For him, cooperation between the food supply chain was important to make it more resilient, while market information needed to be available on a timely basis. He insisted that “protectionism is not the answer.” “Functioning of the internal market is essential in keeping the supply chain intact,” and “international trade is part of the solution not part of the problem when addressing the food security issue.” He also pointed out that some sectors were more vulnerable than others & blanket measures can be counterproductive. “We need to preserve the affordability of food, while generating fairer economic returns to those who ensure food provision on a daily basis”. “I will take the lead in the Commission to elaborate a contingency plan for ensuring food supply & food security in the EU during crises”. “The Commission will also propose a legislative framework for sustainable & resilient EU food systems.”

Wojciechowski said as well that national measures on origin labelling pose a real risk to the Single Market, while the EU’s executive will look at mandatory labelling for certain products as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy. He pointed out that there were already EU origin labelling requirements in place for “a number of categories of food such as fresh meat, fruits & vegetables, honey or olive oil.”

Full note available on Farm Europe’s members area