The European institutions reached, yesterday, a provisional deal on the revision of the Industrial Emission Directive (IED), after very tense discussions on whether or not to include certain agricultural sectors in the scope of this regulation. Finally, thanks to the determination of the rapporteurs of the European Parliament, the co-legislators decided not to include the ruminant livestock sector, which is a move welcomed by Farm Europe. They also decided to tighten the thresholds for sectors already covered by this regulation: pig and poultry producers will be affected by this new regulation.
However, all livestock sectors are covered by two very important — and most welcomed — provisions obtained by the European Parliament :
First, the European Commission will have to “assess, and report to the European Parliament and the Council on the need for Union action to comprehensively address the emissions from the rearing of livestock, in particular cattle, taking into account the range of instruments available and the specificities of the sector”, by December 2026. This is a recognition that the specificities of agriculture should be covered by an adequate regulation, not IED. In other words, this provision paves the way for a potential exclusion of all livestock sectors. Agriculture must be lifted outside the remit of this regulation, and covered by a dedicated framework, as long as farmers are working with nature and animals. This activity should not be assimilated to an industrial activities. Therefore, a fit for purpose framework must be established grasping the complexity of agriculture when it comes to its environmental footprint, but also its co-benefits.
Second, “the Commission should assess, and report to the European Parliament and the Council on the need for Union action to comprehensively address the emissions from the rearing of livestock, in particular cattle, taking into account the range of instruments available and the specificities of the sector”. This provision covers all livestock activities, and calls upon the Commission to set up a level playing field for all product placed on the EU market, meaning both Made in Europe and imported. At a time where the European Union is multiplying efforts to foster trade, producers would, rightly, not understand to be confronted with unfair competition from imported meat with higher environmental footprint. In fact, Europe would be shooting itself in the foot, increasing the burden on its producers, while at the same time opening widely its market.
Therefore, while the compromise reached by the trilogue is certainly not perfect for all producers, it contains provisions that paves the way for an improved and more consistent approach that require a collective work of all livestock producers together, ahead of the review clauses.
The final negotiations on the directive on industrial emissions will address major issues for the future of European livestock farming. There are good reasons to avoid making the mistake of including ruminant livestock farming within the scope of this regulation.
We consider that the inclusion of ruminant livestock in the scope of IED would even achieve exactly the opposite of what it intends to do, fostering the trend of this industry toward intensification, while decision-makers aim at promoting extensive livestock farming because of its multiple co-benefits including for carbon storage, landscape features and biodiversity.
That’s why we fully support the approach of the European Parliament on this file, and consider that EU Member States shall follow this path, excluding ruminant livestock from the scope of this regulation, and addressing the challenge of emissions in other dedicated regulatory framework, better grasping the complexity and the need for holistic approaches of this specific sector.
Dealing with the sustainability of livestock farming solely through the lenses of emissions would offer a premium to the most intensive livestock farming models, in a position of optimising the management of their emissions to the maximum, and missing out on all the positive amenities associated with grass-based livestock farming.
The directive on industrial emissions provides for the development of best available agricultural techniques (BAT) to take account of each type of livestock farming. The environment ministers are considering a derogation for extensive livestock farming, to exclude farms with less than 2 cattle per hectare. As such, these ideas demonstrate the specific nature of the sector. But in some cases, if those derogations are a response to the administrative burden associated with the IED, they do not resolve the most fundamental problem: future market development, which will give the direction of livestock farming in the future.
If, in the future, certain type of livestock farming can be draped in virtues on the basis of emissions alone, it is on this parameter alone that major buyers, especially those quoted on the stock exchange will make their purchasing choices in order to comply with the ESG parameters valued by the financial markets. Priority for them will be given to reducing emissions from upstream agriculture, at the expense of all other co-benefits, including animal welfare, biodiversity and balanced regional development.
Therefore, rather than regulating livestock farming via a simplistic approach, it is appropriate to develop an ad hoc pathway to reducing emissions within a broader framework that takes account of the storage capacity of grasslands and all the other parameters specific to this type of farming, including biodiversity, the impact on the landscape and the contribution to the economic development of remote areas.
In other words, we need to recognise the reality that ruminant livestock farming is not an industrial activity in Europe. It has no place in a directive on industrial emissions.
Four months after the vote in plenary, the Trilogue of 9 November marks the end of the negotiations on the Restoration of Nature regulation. An agreement of the three institutions has been found although it will now have to go through the final scrutiny of the Council and Parliament.
While waiting for the final text of the agreement and the analysis of the details, which are sometimes crucial, we can already see that on the agricultural part, the agreement is closer to the Commission’s proposal and the Council’s position than to that of the Parliament, which had requested the deletion of Article 9, i.e. the complete exclusion of agricultural land from the regulation.
Instead, the agreement reinstates Article 9 and retains its structure but switches from a result-based to an effort-based approach. Furthermore, Member States can choose two of the three proposed indicators (butterfly index; organic carbon stock; share of farmland with high-diversity topographical features).
The reference to the 10 % objective of high diversity landscape features is deleted.
With regard to peatlands, the restoration targets from the Council general approach are maintained but the rewetting targets for 2040 and 2050 are reduced to a third.
On forest ecosystem restoration, the indicators on standing and lying deadwood have been recovered, and at least one of the two should be mandatory. The need for Member States to consider the risk of forest fires is included.
Probably to take into consideration the food security debate that has animated the protests against this regulation, the enhacement of food security has been included as an objective in Article 1 of the regulation.
Furthermore, with regard to financing, it is clarified that the implementation of this regulation does not imply the reprogramming of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy or other agricultural and fisheries financing programmes and instruments under the current MFF. In addition, the European Commission is requested to submit a report on the financial resources available in the EU to implement this regulation and the current funding needs to identify any funding gaps and to present the necessary proposals, including the establishment of specific funding.
The Parliament obtains as well one of its demands, namely the obligation to plant, by 2030, 3 billion trees following ecological principles.
It is therefore an agreement that respects the framework desired by the Commission, with its targets and obligations for the Member States that will have to carry the burden of this regulation. However, the EP obtained some adjustments and flexibilities on agriculture in order not to have this regulation in complete contradiction with the challenge of food security, as the Commission proposal envisaged.
“Agriculture Committee Approves Ms Aguilera’s Report with ambitious targets while minimizing bureaucratic hurdles and the shortcomings of the initial proposal from the Commission”
On October 9th, the Agriculture Committee made a significant contribution regarding the sustainable use of pesticides (SUR) by voting on the Aguilera report. This report introduces key changes to the European Commission proposal that will shape the future of pesticide usage in agriculture. The approved AGRI opinion is a step in the right direction, setting ambitious targets while minimising bureaucratic hurdles, making it more practical and accessible for implementation in the agricultural sector. Many shortcomings of the initial proposal from the European Commission are corrected, which should encourage the Environment Committee of the Parliament to follow the same path and draw inspiration from the consistant approach of the report voted by ComAGRI.
Pesticide Reduction Targets: The committee has set an ambitious goal to reduce pesticide use and risks by up to 50% by 2035. Additionally, Member States are required to establish national reduction targets of at least 35%.
Feasibility Evaluation: By 2029, the Commission would assess the feasibility of achieving the Union’s 2035 reduction targets. This assessment will be based on the availability of alternative non-chemical pest control methods and low-risk plant protection products.
Adjusted Reference Period: The reference period for calculating the reduction in pesticide use and risk has been changed to 2011-2012-2013, a shift from the Commission’s proposal of 2015-2016-2017.
Sensitive Areas: Member States have the authority to define their sensitive areas, but specific details on territorial designations would have to be defined by the Member States.
Electronic Record-keeping: The requirement for farmers to use electronic registers to document preventive practices and pesticide applications was not approved. Articles 14 and 16, which outlined these obligations, were removed.
Crop-Specific Guidelines: Article 15 now provides crop-specific guidelines instead of rigid rules for integrated pest management (IPM).Non-Chemical Pest Control: Farmers are no longer obligated to use non-chemical tools before resorting to pesticides. This change allows more flexibility in agronomic decisions.
Fast Track Approval for Low-Risk Methods: A new article (42b) proposes to fasten approval process for low-risk and biological control methods. This includes the potential for provisional authorization of ‘biological control plant protection products derived from natural substances’.
Precision Agriculture and Drones: The regulation calls for the implementation of precision agriculture, including the use of drones, one year after the regulation takes effect, as opposed to the Commission’s original proposal of three years.
Financing: Article 43, which initially intended to fund this regulation with CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) funds, has been removed. MEPs felt that additional funding sources were necessary, and it was not appropriate to allocate existing CAP funds to new policies.
The final text of the Aguilera report was approved with 26 votes in favor, 9 against, and 3 abstentions. Notably, the Renew Group played a pivotal role in the decision-making process, at times aligning with the EPP and at other times abstaining.
Whatever the outcome of the vote on the Nature Restoration Law in Strasbourg tomorrow, the situation of extreme polarisation of the debate is already a major failure for Vice-President Frans Timmermans and his personal vision of implementing the Green Deal and Farm to Fork.
Ultimately, it raises the question of a European Commission that claims to be « political », and no longer has the capacity to play its role as “honest broker”, able to facilitate dialogue and to shape compromises leaving no one behind. The inclusion of agriculture in this text raises questions as far as the co-legislators have just reached an agreement via the Common Agricultural Policy on important points included again in the Nature Restoration Law. This creates mistrust in the political decision-making and the feeling among the farming community that the European Commission is coming back via the back door, despite the political balances recently established.
The Nature Restoration Law is far from being the only text aimed at protecting natural resources. The aim of this law is above all to bring the protection of biodiversity and environmental policy under the jurisdiction of the Courts, placing a legal risk on the Member States and political leaders, and ultimately to put pressure on all those in direct contact with natural resources, in particular farmers, fishermen and foresters.
In this respect, Article 16 proposed by the European Commission (which makes it easier for individuals to take legal action against political leaders) is indicative of this approach: with this law, it is not a question of encouraging and promoting a positive dynamic. It’s not about incentives, it’s about sanctions. The European Commission is positioning itself as a supervisor who validates or distributes sanctions, without taking any political responsibility for defining the path to achieving the targets — the how to implement transitions —, and if necessary relying on the courts. The European Commission would approve national plans.
No political group, with the exception of the Greens and part of the far left, feels truly comfortable with the approach defined by the European Commission. An analysis of the amendments tabled in plenary bears this out.
The EPP profoundly rejects this text. In the end, it decided that there was no point in trying to improve the draft law. It has tabled a motion to reject it.
It is joined in this approach by the ECR and ID groups. The ECR also tabled amendments aimed at deleting the 10% target for areas of ecological interest (equivalent to set-aside land) and deleting the “butterfly” indicator, which would force Member States to observe the growth of certain species.
The Renew Europe group is attempting a compromise by proposing the Council’s general approach, a proposal which does not, however, resolve the most divisive agricultural issues.
In addition, individual MEPs from Renew Europe and the Socialists tabled amendments on these subjects in order to limit the potential negative impact on agriculture, and in particular the deletion of any reference to the 10% target.
The Greens support the overall approach of the Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans.
However, no amendments were tabled in relation to the recital making “extensive agriculture” the alpha and omega of an effective environmental policy. Yet this type of approach, which moves towards de-growth in agricultural production, poses a problem, not only from a food sovereignty point of view but also from the point of view of protecting natural resources. It would mean more land being farmed, and therefore more deforestation and less biodiversity. Following this “extensification” path, the nature restoration law would be bad for nature.
Our analysis of the initial proposal is available here.
The publication of the proposal for a « Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on plants obtained by certain new genomic techniques and their food and feed » is scheduled for 5 July next, and the draft is circulating among the various DGs in an interservices procedure for final amendments before publication.
The text that is now circulating – unless any last-minute substantial changes – gives us an idea of the direction in which the Commission intends to go. It confirms our expectations, providing a good working basis on this file to boost innovation, and meet the health, climate and environmental challenges, ahead of the negotiations to come with the co-legislators.
First of all, a clear distinction is made between 2 groups of NGTs:
1. Plants obtained through targeted mutagenesis or cisgenesis, which could also occur naturally or be produced through conventional breeding (‘category 1 NGT plants’) would be treated similarly to conventional plants and would not require authorisation, but a simple notification. In addition, a transparency register would be established. If the notification takes place before the field trial, the verification of the criteria takes place at Member State level and the national decision has EU-wide effects and also applies to the placing on the market. For placing on the market where no field trials have been carried out in the EU, including imports, the decision is taken by the Commission, after verification of the criteria by EFSA. No specific labelling would be required.
2. All plants from NGTs that do not fall under the first case are called category 2 NGT plants’ and would fall under GMO legislation and therefore undergo an authorisation process. The risk assessment would be adapted to take into account their different risk profiles and measures would be introduced to incentivise plant products that could contribute to a sustainable agri-food system. Traceability would be maintained as well as labelling. On a voluntary basis, GMO labelling can be supplemented with information on the purpose of genetic modification, e.g. to increase the sustainability of the plant. Unlike for GMOs, for these plants it will not be possible for Member States to restrict their cultivation or circulation on the market. There will be regulatory incentives for (potential) applicants of category 2 NGT plants containing traits with the potential to contribute to a sustainable agri-food system, e.g. an accelerated procedure or where the applicant is an SME, it shall be exempted from the payment of the financial contributions to the Union Reference Laboratory and to the European Network of GMO Laboratories.
With respect to these two categories of NGTs, herbicide-tolerant NGT plants, even if they fulfil the notification criteria (category 1 NGT) will remain subject to authorisation and the related requirements, in order to be able to assess their impact on human and animal health and the environment in the medium and long term. “There is evidence to show that herbicide-resistant weeds may result from the combined use of herbicide-tolerant varieties and associated herbicide overuse, with potential health and agroecosystem impacts,” the Commission explains.
As far as organic is concerned, according to the Commission initial draft, both NGT1 and NGT2 would be banned in organic production and to enable this, it would be mandatory to indicate the use of NGT in seed labelling. Member States would have to take implementing measures for coexistence.
Once formally adopted by the college of Commissioners on the 5th July, this proposal will be discussed under co-decision by the European Parliament and Council. Both ComENVI and ComAGRI will be involved until the end of this mandate. Most probably it will be up to the next Parliament to finalise the deal and negotiate with the Council.
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.