Exposed: How big farm lobbies are undermining the EU’s green agriculture plan | Europe | News and events from across the continent | DW


It is a long way from the farms and fields of Sezze in central Italy to the halls of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. But decisions taken at the European assembly this week can have a direct impact on the lives of farmers like Valentina Pallavicino. His farm in the plains between Rome and the Mediterranean is one that is often cited by policymakers and lobbyists when seeking support for changes to the complex and heavily subsidized European agricultural system.

Pallavicino, like most Europeans, does not follow all the twists and turns of agricultural reform debated by politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg, but she clearly discerns two central aspects of the agricultural landscape: cheap food has been a boon to farmers. large industrial farms and many farmers support sustainable agriculture.

“What they ask, we are already doing,” she said when presented with some of the key elements of a new “green” strategy for the future of European agriculture, known as “De farm to fork “, which aims to reduce the use of pesticides and antimicrobials. , set a food waste threshold and rely on renewable energies to create a sustainable food system. “We don’t use antibiotics, preservatives or chemicals,” she added.

Pallavicino says she is also wary of organized lobbying organizations claiming to speak on her behalf. It seems obvious, she said, that the big guys don’t like this kind of policy because it will increase costs and “they will win if the prices are lower.”

Although they never met, Polish dairy farmer Alina Lis came to the same conclusions on her 30-hectare (74-acre) farm in western Poland, where she raises 40 cows.

“I believe that agriculture in Europe must be sustainable for the sake of nature and food security,” says Lis.

Lis has seen her milk margins plummet as she competes with intensive farms that rely on heavy use of chemical fertilizers and antibiotics.

Who represents European farmers?

The battle over who represents the real voice and interests of farmers like Pallavicino and Lis, and the millions of Europeans they feed, reaches a crescendo this week as the European Parliament prepares to vote on a radical new leadership for agriculture in the EU. Any change introduced by the legislative body requires the approval of EU member states before entering into force.

Farmers will receive support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget, the EU’s massive farm subsidy program which has disbursed more than 50 billion euros ($ 58 billion) each year since 2005. On the financing, 80% goes to 20% of the largest farms in the EU.

Chart showing that 80% of CAP spending goes to the 20% of the largest farms

Supporters of the Farm-to-Fork strategy, including green groups, say it will reduce agriculture’s share of greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet while keeping food low. affordable price. An assessment by in-house Commission scientists found that the strategy could support farmers and reduce agriculture-related emissions by 20% across the EU.

Yet it has been criticized by the powerful agribusiness lobby which claims the proposal is not scientifically viable, will drive up prices for consumers and go against the interests of EU farmers.

Documents reviewed by DW showed that these groups want to get rid of specific targets for reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers, references to health risks associated with intensive agriculture, requirements to increase transparency. by labeling products and the ability of member states to impose higher taxes. on non-durable products.

But the same interest groups have also been accused of abusing science, distorting media coverage and betraying the farmers they claim to represent.

Big lobbies, small farmers

During a multi-month joint investigation, investigative newsroom Lighthouse Reports, DW, Follow the Money, Mediapart and Domani spoke to nearly 30 farmers, politicians, scientists, lobby groups and experts and have analyzed confidential communications to reveal the reach and influence of lobbying organizations.

What emerges is a portrait of wealthy industrial lobby groups – from petrochemicals and multinational meat packaging giants to pharmaceutical companies – who have a stubborn grip on EU politics as well as critical differences with farmers. families whose well-being they are supposed to defend.

A gap has grown within the farming community, between those who want to continue to develop a model of industrial agriculture, which experts say harms the environment, and others who prefer some form of farming. on a smaller scale and more environmentally friendly.

Graph showing farms by type in the EU

How is EU agricultural money spent?

Most independent farmers say they welcome the price increases, focusing on the environmental costs of farming and fair trading practices. Many also say that the major lobby groups do not speak for themselves.

“I don’t feel represented by the farmers’ pressure groups … Polish small farms are collapsing,” Lis said.

Marcin Wojcik, who owns a 270 hectare farm in the Low Beskid Mountains in Poland, agreed.

“For two years I was vice-president of Narodowy Fundusz Promocji Mięsa Wołowego, but I resigned because I had no connection with these people and what they do,” he says. “It was more politics. We didn’t know where the money was going.”

Graph showing how CAP money is allocated

From farm to fork, a “win-win for total society”

Agricultural lobby groups, including Copa-Cogeca, the Liaison Center for the Meat Processing Industry in the European Union (Clitravi), European Livestock Voice, European Dairy Association and CropLife Europe, have commissioned studies who attack the Farm to Fork strategy.

A study funded by the Grain Club, an alliance of German grain companies, and carried out by the University of Kiel, shows that implementing the Farm to Fork plan would lead to lower European agricultural production, higher prices and lower prices. greater dependence of the continent on imports.

Copa-Cogeca used the study to criticize the farm-to-fork strategy without mentioning that the report also shows that the incomes and well-being of farmers, especially ranchers, could be significantly improved.

Study author scientist Christian Henning pointed out in an interview with DW: “The green deal is potentially a win-win situation for society as a whole, as the benefits more than outweigh the losses of conventional agricultural production reduced.

The green deal Henning is referring to is a set of proposals adopted by the European Commission on July 14 to ensure that EU climate, energy, transport and tax policies reduce net gas emissions greenhouse effect by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Farm to fork is “at the heart” of the Green Deal, the Commission said, adding that agriculture is responsible for 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Another publication commissioned by CropLife, which lobbies on behalf of pesticide manufacturers and other stakeholders in the food industry, and used by Copa-Cogeca, comes from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. He concludes that if the fork farm is implemented, prices will rise and meat production will drop by 10-15% and crop production by 10-20%.

Copa-Cogeca communications director Jean-Baptiste Boucher told DW the studies showed Farm to Fork “many blind spots” and accused NGOs of “a deliberate attempt to trigger a media backlash” for denouncing The strategy.

However, the research did not address “the positive impact of the farm-to-fork strategy on climate change”, the main focus of the proposal, admitted Johan Bremmer, author of the Wageningen report.

Paid for farm-to-fork misinformation?

Within two days, the Wageningen report was presented at a conference on the Euractiv media platform, which produced articles critical of the Farm to Fork initiative, and at a special event hosted by the pro-meat group European Livestock Voice.

CropLife paid for the Euractiv event. A scan of the platform’s website showed that of the seven events organized by Euractiv with “From Farm to Fork” in the past two years, six were sponsored by the food industry.

Chris Powers, Euractiv Communications Director, says that although the organization was paid to host the events, Euractiv values ​​impartial, inclusive and constructive debates.

Small farmers left in the dark

The sustained campaign against Farm to Fork has baffled smallholder farmers who were already struggling to remain profitable and are unsure whether they will agree to all of the proposed measures.

Dutch dairy farmer Peter Gille says low margins and high costs have made it difficult for many farmers like him to secure their future. He created ancillary businesses, including a nursery, a campsite and a restaurant, to supplement his income.

Susan Malhieu, a 29-year-old dairy farmer in Ypres, Belgium, said that while some of the policies in the strategy will work, environmentally friendly farming will cost money.

“I’m a little worried that it wasn’t handled very well in Farm to Fork,” she said. “I agree to have environmental objectives … but to achieve the objectives, will monetary aid be provided? “

Italian farmer Emanuele Pullano believes it is crucial to educate consumers.

“We have to make people understand that they may be spending that extra two euros but are buying a product that is healthy for themselves and for the environment. That way the price increase can be digested.”

Céline VanKerschaver, 29, international representative of Grone King, the organization of young farmers in Belgium, said Farm to Fork could help the EU achieve more consistency in the food chain and improve social aspects and environmental aspects of agriculture. But politicians should listen to farmers, not just lobbies, she said.

“We want more recognition for small and young farmers because they are the next generation,” she says. “We talk a lot about farmers but not with farmers.

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