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My food chain law is better than yours

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The week was off to a fiery start, with tractors – again – taking to the streets of Brussels, and EU countries calling on the European Commission to “reorientate” the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

At Monday’s Council meeting, member states discussed some of the EU executive’s proposals to simplify the CAP, as well as pushing for more farmers’ protections.

The EU executive is preparing a series of measures in this direction.

Two countries have their own ideas about what the rules of the game in negotiations across the food chain should look like – or rather, what they should be inspired by. 

Spanish Agriculture Minister Luis Planas proudly told journalists on Wednesday (28 February) that Madrid was “exporting” its national legislation to the EU, in particular the protection of farmers against selling at a loss, a key clause in Spanish law.

A few days before, French President Emmanuel Macron had called for the creation of an “European Egalim”. Egalim (États généraux de l’alimentation) is a set of French laws that regulate contractual negotiations between food producers, supermarkets and manufacturers.

But Egalim laws are not without controversy. A legal battle has been going on for years, with Paris accusing food operators of bypassing French law by moving their purchasing centres to other EU countries with more favourable legislation to them – a case rejected by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). 

Asked about Macron’s comments, Planas described them as “very French behaviour”, and joked that he would call Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to step in. “He could proudly say the same thing about the Spanish law,” he added. 

The current legal framework at the EU level is the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) directive, which was adopted in 2019. 

Last week, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee called on the EU executive to review the directive and create a mechanism for “fair price transmission” throughout the value chain. 

A Commission survey is ongoing to gather the views of farmers and “all small suppliers” across the food chain on their experiences of unfair trading practices. 

The call is open until 15 March, and the results will be used in the evaluation of the EU’s current rules – which the Commission has to carry out by November next year. 

Ukrainian grain rift continues as Polish authorities check trucks at the Lithuanian-Polish border. Polish farmers began a week of disruption at the border with Lithuania on Friday (1 March), accompanying Polish inspectors who check trucks entering Poland to ensure they are not carrying Ukrainian grain.

Warsaw still has a unilateral ban on grain coming from Ukraine, which Polish farmers say is flooding their market. They say Ukrainian grain is finding its way into Poland as EU goods via Lithuania.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced on Wednesday that his government was negotiating a temporary border closure with Kyiv. A day later, he said that Warsaw was also looking into the possibility of banning agricultural imports from Russia and Belarus. 

European Commission approves Romanian aid package for farmers. The EU executive on Friday (1 March) gave the green light to a €164 million aid package to support farmers “at risk of losing liquidity” due to market disruptions caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

NGO study warns of increasing exposure to ‘forever chemicals’. EU consumers are being increasingly exposed to toxic PFAS – the so-called ‘forever chemicals’ -, according to a study by the European Pesticides Action Network (PAN Europe) published on Tuesday (27 February). Researchers found that 20% of fruit grown in the EU contains residues of at least one PFAS pesticide in 2021.

The European Parliament strengthens protection for traditional foods. MEPs approved on Wednesday (28 February) a revised version of the Geographical Indications (GIs) regulation, which protects food products whose characteristics are linked to their geographical origin through special labels. The revision offers stronger protection on the web and aims to address shortcomings related to consumer awareness, low levels of enforcement, and environmental concerns. 

EU consumers in favour of new animal welfare laws, survey suggests. Nine out of ten EU consumers want new animal welfare laws, such as increasing living space and banning cage systems and mutilations, according to a survey published by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) on Tuesday (27 February). The survey also found that 72% of EU consumers would like to see a farming method label for all animal products, similar to the one in place for eggs.

EFSA to ask Commission to ‘relaunch’ chief executive selection process. The EU’s food authority is ‘not satisfied’ with the outcome of the recruitment process and will ask the EU executive to ‘relaunch’ it, said the board’s chairman on Thursday (29 February). The current chief, Bernhard Url, is expected to leave EFSA in May. The agency’s upcoming work includes a scientific opinion on the Commission’s proposal for classifying plants obtained with controversial new genomic techniques (NGTs).

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro/Nathalie Weatherald]

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