Nobel laureates and scientific coalitions call on the European Parliament to embrace new genomic techniques for climate and food security. Within the EU, debates intensify over proposals to patent gene-edited plant. EP adopted its negotiating position while the Council’s presidency is still anxious to build a majority to adopt its position on NGTs which would open the way to trilogues.

While FAO studies the impact of biotechnologies on small farmers holders, the UK develop disease-resistant bananas.

IED: beyond politics, good reasons not to include ruminant livestock

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.

Nature Restoration Law: a provisional agreement covering agricultural land

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.

Nature restoration law: a major setback for VP Frans Timmermans

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.