Speaking at the monthly meeting of European agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan confirmed his intention to bring forward a total ban on pesticides on Ecological Focus Area (EFA) land.
In the face of opposition from 18 member states – including the UK – the ban would restrict the use of plant protection products on ‘productive’ EFA areas including catch crops, nitrogen-fixing crops and fallow land. As part of his CAP simplification agenda, Commissioner Hogan also announced his intention to extend the minimum fallow period from six to nine months, and introduce a ten week period on catch crops.
Commissioner Hogan later confirmed that this could be reduced to eight weeks. Member states will have the possibility of introducing these changes in 2018, or 2017 if they are in a position to do so.
Commission officials will now examine potential changes to the control system. The changes are referred to as the ‘omnibus regulation’ affecting all four CAP regulations. The proposed changes are implemented via a delegated act, meaning that the European Parliament will need to scrutinise them before they can take effect.
The 18 member states to oppose the pesticide ban were Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK.
At a plenary session last week, Members of the European Parliament passed a series of resolutions calling for the European Commission to reverse its recent approval of genetically modified maize and cotton plants for import and cultivation.
The opposition comes in the same week that the European Food Safety Authority concluded once again, after a commission-sanctioned reassessment, the safety of the maize varieties.
Nevertheless, MEPs cite risks to the environment and farmers, as well as the alleged procedural problem that the commission is making such decisions without seeking the majority backing of member states. MEPs also called for an overhaul of the current GMO authorisation system in the EU.
The commission has recently tried to give member states more responsibility for such decisions as the current system forcing member states to reach a majority decision is proving unworkable. Changes mean that member states can now opt out of EU-wide GMO cultivation approvals by the commission, but cannot block imports of products derived from GMOs even though this was initially proposed. The commission has no legal obligation to act on the parliament’s actions however and has not done so before when similar resolutions have been passed.
Last week the European Farmers’ organisation, Copa held their biannual congress where the main topic was “Opportunities for European Agriculture: Green growth and dynamic markets”.
NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie moderated the first session on farm innovation. Mr Bowie emphasised to the speakers and the audience that there is a need to attract young people to the industry and technology and innovation is a means through which we can achieve this. Keynote speaker Professor Erik Mathijs from the University of Leuven stated that we need to move away from the theory of innovation and now start to see it applied practically on the ground. The second session at the conference focused on the digital revolution and how there is a huge amount of data collected on farm which must be of benefit to farmers if properly analysed.
Issues were raised about who actually owns all of this data and the potential problems of this grey area. The overarching conclusion was that new technology is of a huge benefit to agriculture but farmers need to get used to sharing and making the most of the information they collect.
Hogan: ‘CAP’s Environmental dimension is here to stay’
On the second day of the conference, Commissioner Hogan focused on the environmental aspects of the CAP. He described the CAP as a modern economic, environmental and social policy, wherein the environmental dimension is as important as the other two. He cited the achievement of the policy in helping to reduce GHG emissions from agriculture by 23% since 1990 and the level of nitrates in rivers by 17.7% since 1992.
He said: “There is a clear indication that if farmers are incentivised and paid properly for their work, they can deliver across a wide range of policy areas.” He argued that the agriculture sector has an obligation to deliver fully on environmental objectives and that he will not “stand by and watch us lower our level of environmental ambition”.
In the same week as this commitment to further reducing agriculture’s environmental impact, Hogan pledged €15 million to promote meat consumption in the EU, hoping to challenge negative publicity around eating animal proteins.