Lost in the post? Green groups not invited to speak at Commission food markets confab

The European Commission is holding an agriculture markets conference this week with not a single representative from an environmental NGO on the bill.

The Commission describes its EU Agricultural Outlook conference as the ‘key annual gathering of European stakeholders willing to engage and discuss the future of agriculture’. Yet green groups have criticised Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan for not giving them the chance to talk about the huge negative impact EU agricultural subsidies are having on the environment and climate.

Animal agriculture is responsible for around 16.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, equivalent to the emissions from the combustion of all transport fuels. In the EU, intensive meat and dairy production are responsible for a huge share of the 10% of GHG emissions that come from the agriculture sector.

Online records show that while farmers, retailers, and agribusiness were in abundance on stage at the same event in 2015, 2016, and 2017, representatives from environmental NGOs were left sitting in the audience. At this year’s confab, the only discussion on the environment is buried within a session on ‘digitizing agriculture’.

The Commission farm conference takes place in the same week as the latest round of UN climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland.

Bérénice Dupeux, Policy Officer for Agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

Given the urgent climate and environmental crisis we are facing, the Commission has a moral duty not to ignore the impact of the European food system on the world. EU governments must rapidly initiate a transition away from an export-oriented agriculture policy. Commissioner Phil Hogan’s so-called tech solutions will not do the trick. The fact is that the Commission’s plan for the future of the farm sector is anything but environmentally sound.”

A recent study carried out by Greenpeace Germany revealed that over 100 different chemical products used by the agriculture sector were present in 29 water bodies near intensive livestock farms across 10 EU countries. All the samples of agricultural run-off tested positive for pesticides and nearly 80% of the samples showed traces of medication given to farm animals, including antibiotics.

These findings on water pollution come as the European Commission carries out a review of its Water Framework Directive – the EU law designed to keep Europe’s lakes and rivers in good ecological health. 100 NGOs are campaigning for the law not to be weakened by asking citizens to express their support through the ongoing public consultation on the water law. Over 150,000 people have taken part so far.

European political leaders are also currently debating how to reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In June the European Commission published its CAP reform proposal which environmental groups warn sets the stage for a ‘race to the bottom’ on ecological farm standards. Under the plan, countries would have little incentive to link farm subsidy payments to environmental protection. Those that go the extra mile by championing environmental protection would effectively be putting their farmers in at a negative competitive advantage in Europe.

Dirk Zimmermann, agriculture expert at Greenpeace Germany, says that environmental damage occurs due to the current high levels of livestock, the associated feed crops, the amount of manure and the widespread use of drugs. He adds that the upcoming reform of the CAP is an opportunity to allocate public money by linking payments to “ecological services and farming methods as well as better and more environmentally friendly animal husbandry“.