The European Commission
will launch a new market observatory for fruit and vegetables later this year,
a move which it says will ‘bring greater transparency and analysis to [a]key
sector for European agriculture.’ It will also launch a market observatory for
wine at the same time.
Although fruit and
vegetables account for 2401 per cent of EU agricultural output, because the
fruit and vegetable sector comprises such a wide range of products, the focus
of the new observatory will be on tomatoes, apples, citrus fruit, peaches and
The Commission currently
has four observatories for crops (cereals, oilseeds and proteins), sugar, meat
and milk. As part of the plan sector experts will meet regularly to discuss the
state of the market.
Photo Caption: The
European Commission is to launch a new market observatory for fruits and
An expected European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on the use and classification of new plant breeding techniques (NPBT), which was widely expected this month, is now believed to have been delayed for at least another month.
A recent report on the Euractivwebsite says that the European Commission ‘has made clear it sees it as a pure case of interpreting the law; However, EU farmers expressed their fear last year about a “politicised” decision.’
The EU farmers’ union Copa-Cogeca has urged the EU to embrace new technology quicker. Its secretary-general Pekka Pesonen said: “It is crucial that breeders in the EU get access to all the necessary plant breeding technologies (NBT). EU farmers cannot wait for the normal time of 12-15 years that it takes to breed a new variety and with the huge uncertainty that results from conventional processing techniques.
“NBTs must be used immediately for mutation breeding as it is the plant’s own DNA being worked on and must therefore naturally be excluded from the GMO Directive. By doing this, a new variety where NBT is used for mutation, of course, must only undergo a normal variety testing by CPVR and, of course, can in no way contain any patents at all.”
However groups representing organic and small farmers believe that these new techniques have only been developed by big business as a way to overcome public hostility to genetic modification.
Photo Caption: Supporters argue that new plant breeding techniques can reduce pesticide use and improve yields.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has upheld the EU’s almost total ban on the use of neonicotinoid insecticides after legal action was brought by agrochemical giants Bayer and Syngenta.
The ECJ ruling said the EU had correctly applied its “precautionary principle”, which allows restrictions on chemicals even when conclusive evidence of harm is lacking.
Both Bayer and Syngenta said they were disappointed by the decision, as did the UK’s Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC). AIC said it supported the action brought by Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta as it ‘firmly believes in an approval system that is based on scientific evidence, independent review and an assessment of impacts, rather than politics’.
Hazel Doonan, head of AIC’s crop protection sector added: “Effective modern crop protection products are an essential part of meeting UK Government’s drive to raise productivity whilst enhancing the environment. If innovation is to take place, it relies on those involved in discovering and bringing new technology to the market, to have a clear regulatory framework within which to operate.”
In a separate ruling, the ECJ backed chemicals giant BASF in its complaint against restrictions on fipronil. The court said the European Commission had failed to do an impact assessment on fipronil, and that this “breached the precautionary principle.”
The European Commission has published information on the uptake of its scheme to supply free fruit and vegetables in schools for the 2016-17 school year. The scheme supplies fruit and veg to schools in every EU country, apart from the UK and Sweden which have declined to take part.
During the 2016-2017 school year, more than 12.2 million children in 79,000 schools took part in the EU fruit and vegetables scheme and around 18 million children took part in the EU milk scheme. This represents more than 74,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables over the year.
Germany supplied the largest amount of fruit and vegetables (in financial terms) followed by Italy, France, Spain and Poland. In 2016-2017, apples were the most widely distributed fruit, along with pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, oranges, strawberries and bananas. Carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers were the most popular vegetables.
Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan said, “European farmers provide us with high quality, safe and healthy food, and through the School Scheme, our youngest citizens gain the health benefits of these products while also learning at an early age where our food comes from and the importance of taste and nutrition. €250 million from the Common Agricultural Policy will ensure the continuous rolling out of the EU School Scheme in the 2018-2019 school year.”
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Plant Health has categorised the Guatemalan potato tuber moth (Tecia solanivora (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae)) as a Union quarantine pest for the EU.
solanivora, which feeds exclusively on Solanum tuberosum, was first described in Costa Rica in 1973 and has spread through Central and northern South America via the trade in seed potatoes. It has also spread to Mexico, the Canary Islands and mainland Spain where it is under official control in Galicia and Asturias.
solanivora is currently regulated by Council Directive 2000/29/EC, listed in Annex II/AI as Scrobipalpopsis solanivora. Larvae feed and develop within potato tubers; infested tubers therefore provide a pathway for pest introduction and spread, as does the soil accompanying potato tubers if it is infested with eggs or pupae.
Defra has published a fact sheet on the Guatemalan potato tuber moth, but EFSA points out that there are uncertainties over the effectiveness of preventing illegal imports via passenger baggage and the magnitude of potential impacts in the cool EU climate.
The European Commission has asked for comments on proposals on ‘benchmark’ levels for acrylamide which have been published on its website.
The draft project asks for producers to apply measures to reduce levels of acrylamide in products such as chips, crisps and other potato products, as well as other baked goods and coffee. It comes after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its scientific opinion on acrylamide in food; reconfirming previous evaluations that acrylamide in food potentially increases the risk of developing cancer.
The Finnish Food and Drink Industries’ Federation (ETL) stressed, ‘the need of taking regional conditions in to account when assessing the necessity of certain mitigation methods. For example, the use of chemical substances to suppress sprouting has not been seen necessary since cool (winter) storage conditions prevent sprouting. Not using sprouting suppressing agents is also a measure preventing overall exposure to chemicals. Also, the change of raw material or ingredient should not lead to poor or lesser nutritional quality at the cost of lower acrylamide levels.’
In addition, the Finnish Frozen Food and Potato Association (F&P) have written that the suggested benchmark level of 750 µg/kg for potato crisps is too low and could cause problems both for Finnish potato producers and food processors. ‘The acrylamide level should stay at 1000 µg/kg for potato crisps. No health problems reported so far and the recent level is already cutting out the high acrylamide levels from production. Potato crisps are minor products and not part of daily diet,’ they said.
The future of many UK farming businesses looks uncertain, according to a new report on the agricultural implications of leaving the EU by a University of Warwick academic.
In the report, Professor Wyn Grant of the University of Warwick and the Farmer-Scientist Network, considers topics including the impact on the single farm payment, regulation, plant protection, world trade, animal health and welfare and migrant labour.
Commissioned by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, which hosts the Network, it aims to inform and promote debate to highlight the issues which could potentially shape British agriculture.
Speaking in advance of the report’s publication on Thursday 4 February, Professor Grant said it was hard to see any advantage to British farmers in leaving the EU. In the event of a “yes” vote, the lack of contingency planning by the Government would inevitably lead to a period of great uncertainty, for at least two years, as the new regime took shape, making medium and long term planning for farmers extremely difficult, he said: “There is a perception in the industry that leaving the EU would reduce the burden of regulation. I do not think there will be a bonfire of regulations as the problem is not just from Brussels but from gold-plating by London. There are legal complexities which have not been considered.”
Nigel Pulling Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society commented, “While there is some dissatisfaction with Europe there is at least certainty. What this report has highlighted is the complexity of the number of different issues we are facing, but the Government hasn’t filled in any of the blanks.”
The EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, has welcomed the announcement on the improved access to the Indian market for EU apple exports.
He said, “Improved access to the Indian market represents another positive step in finding alternative markets for EU producers, in light of the ongoing difficult market situation. Our efforts to break down any barriers to our agricultural exports and to open markets to our producers are ongoing, as part of the diplomatic offensive we are leading in 2016.”
While all access points were closed to apples imports since September 2015 with the exception of one port, as of the week ending 22 January, European producers can now get their apples into the Indian market through major sea ports and airports while the importation of apples is also allowed through India’s land borders.
The EU says that the Indian market has huge potential. While EU exports of apples to India amounted to only around 7,000 tonnes in 2014, provisional figures for 2015 show an increase to around 11,000 tonnes and India has the potential to absorb a higher share of EU exports given its moderate domestic apple production of around 1.5 million tonnes.
The UK is committed to scientific evidence in the face of potentially damaging European legislation. That was the message from Kathleen Kelliher of Defra when she addressed the UK Onion & Carrot Conference on Wednesday 4 October.
“Most of these decisions are made in Brussels and while Defra uses science-based decision making, sadly we cannot promise that decisions on future EU approvals will be based on sound science, because in some cases the current EU criteria are not scientific,” she said.
“The UK has arguably been the leading member state in pressing for science-based regulation of these chemicals. Our calls for an impact assessment have at last been heeded by the Commission.
“Defra supports regulation to protect people and the environment from adverse effects from pesticides; however it is right for all of use to be aware of the costs and benefits of regulation. We agree that the EU regime has features that carry very significant cost for limited benefits.
“We think [potential pesticides]should be assessed by a proper risk assessment,” she added.
NFU president Meurig Raymond has been elected by European farmers’ organisation Copa-Cogeca to represent EU farmers’ interests on the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain.
The forum, which seeks to improve relationships across the whole chain from consumers to farmers, processors and retailers, will be jointly chaired by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan and the Commissioners for the Internal Market, Health and Food Safety.
Speaking in Brussels after his election Mr Raymond said, “I am very pleased to have this opportunity to work on the improvement of the European food supply chain. The NFU lobbied hard for the government to introduce the Groceries Code and Adjudicator in the UK. Although it isn’t perfect, it has improved relations between suppliers and retailers. I will be highlighting our experience – as Commissioner Hogan so frequently does – to my colleagues on the forum to ensure our example of best practice is shared throughout Europe.
“The NFU continues to call on the European Commission to bring forward legislation to deal with unfair trading practices. We want to ensure that British farmers receive a fair deal in the food chain both at home and abroad. The new High Level Forum is a chance to improve the food chain for the long term – deal with unfair trading, iron out volatility and create opportunities for the farming sector. The food chain is now in the political spotlight, and I intend to keep it there.”