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EU sustainable farming strategy provides more questions than answers

6th Jul 2020 / By Alistair Driver

Moves at EU level to make farming more sustainable were outlined to industry representatives at the latest NPA Pig Industry Group meeting.

Verity Richards, from the NFU’s Brussels-based BAB office, which will continue to operate, despite Brexit, provided an update on the new EU biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, which both fall under the new European ‘Green Deal’.

A number of EU targets have been set under the strategies, including a 50% reduction in pesticides and antibiotic sales, a 20% reduction of fertiliser use and upping the proportion of designated organic land from the current 8% to 25%.

Sustainable targets

Ms Richards noted that there was distinct concern within BAB about the arbitrary nature of these targets and their workability, a sentiment very much echoed within PIG.

Among the potential flaws is that many member states have already achieved low usage in some of these areas, compared with others. The question then arises as to how and whether there could be equal application across member states.

There are also measures being discussed under these banners relating to food security, supply chain resilience and food labelling. There had been discussion over animal welfare labelling and meat consumption, although there has been nothing binding with regard to targets being set, Ms Richards added.

EU sustainable targets 2

Lack of detail

There is a worrying lack of detail around the targets and, if they are implemented, the biggest concern is that they will push up EU costs of production, alongside a reduction in direct payments, and potentially compromise productivity, increasing the EU’s reliance on food imports.

There is, of course, added complication over the UK’s position. Depending partly on the extent to which the UK seeks to align itself with the EU in future trading arrangements, the policy could have implications for UK farm policy.

A key part of the EU strategy is the possibility of forging ‘sustainable alliances’ with trading partners, including ‘encouraging’ sustainability chapters in new trade agreements.

This includes a desire for imported products to meet the new EU standards. But exactly how this would be enforced is unclear. Ms Richards suggested that the rhetoric might be more stringent than the reality, as reflected with the recent Mercosur-EU agreement.

It is clear that while the policy is long on aspiration, the EU policymakers face a lot of work in bringing member states and their farmers on board and coming up with something that is workable and will not damage domestic production.

It is not just farmers who are concerned. Inevitably, green NGOs have expressed concern that the measures do not go far enough.

Sustainable soya

The PIG meeting also heard from Efeca consultant Rose McCulloch on the UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya, which the NPA is a part of, and its work in getting industry agreement on sustainable sourcing policies for the UK supply chain.

The roundtable has been regularly sitting with Government support under the sustainable forests programme since 2018.

Concern is high over the sustainability of sourcing soya, given the land use change that has taken place in places where it is grown, notably South America.

The roundtable brings together all interested parties in the supply chain including primary producers, traders, manufacturers, customers and retailers, to work on sustainable sourcing initiatives for soya.

Soya progress

While only 15% of the group originally met the requirements of deforestation free supply in 2018, this has risen to 27%. The remaining 73% is not necessarily from unsustainable sources – there is just a lack of information on how it is produced, Ms McCulloch said.

The NPA’s Lizzie Wilson has been an active member of the roundtable, enabling pig industry concerns to be effectively fed into the process.

“For the pork industry, a key element is that the whole supply chain can come together as part of the roundtable. This will help bring about a mass market solution over a realistic timescale to effect the transition to sustainable soya that is practical and cost-effective for everyone involved, including grass roots producers,” she said.