NY Bee Protection Bill Would Sting Farmers

Protecting the birds and the bees, that is the aim of a bill in the New York Legislature that passed in June. The bill would ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (known as neonics) — a move that is dear to the heart of anti-pesticide activists, but that would severely hurt farmers and consumers alike.

The premise of their argument is that chemicals in this group of insecticides severely affects the health of pollinators, and thus a ban would protect the ecosystem in the state — but they’re wrong.

As I outlined in a piece for Newsmax last year, there are a myriad of mistruths about the health of bees that are being used for the causes of activists whose stated goals is a ban of all pesticides. The short version is the following: despite warnings of a “Beepocalypse,” bee populations are in fact on the rise. Regional bee declines occur through urbanization, reduced market demands for managed colonies, and naturally occurring viruses.

Like most poor public policy, the Birds and Bees Protection Act is built on faulty premises and a feel-good name. The statistics on pollinator decline and colony collapse disorder have long been falsely associated with the use of insecticides. In fact, before insecticides were blamed for “killing the bees,” it used to be bioengineered food that was in the crosshairs of activists.

This assumption was never backed up by evidence, and administrations on both sides of the aisle have come to recognize the incredible climate mitigation and efficiency opportunities associated with genetically engineered food.

In the European Union, a number of countries have implemented exemptions on neonic bans due to the detrimental impact they had on local farmers. This exemption policy not only causes anxiety for all parties involved, but also fails to provide farmers with any certainty for the future.

The Birds and Bees Protection Act takes a different approach by completely prohibiting the use of these products, bypassing regulatory agencies. However, this approach then requires these agencies to undergo lengthy assessments to determine appropriate emergency use. This process is both burdensome and unfair to farmers.

The elimination of regulatory agencies from the decision-making process was the primary reason why California Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill last year that aimed to ban neonics for non-agricultural purposes.

Advocates for pollinators may have good intentions, but their lack of understanding of agriculture is evident. The implementation of neonics bans in Europe has resulted in farmers resorting to alternative chemicals to protect their crops. However, the use of substitute products has been shown to decrease crop yield and increase insect resistance, ultimately leading to negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity.

It is not feasible to suggest that farmers acquire more land to compensate for crop losses or use products that are not equipped to provide adequate protection for their fields.

The potential consequences of such measures are dire, particularly for the over 25,000 farm workers in New York State who rely on stable yields and reliable methods to safeguard their farms from invasive species. The absence of guaranteed yields could lead to rising prices in the crop production sector, as has been observed in France.

For New Yorkers already grappling with the burden of rapid inflation, such agricultural regulations are not responsible. Legislation of this nature should require more than a mere noble-sounding name and good intentions to become law, and the Birds and Bees Protection Act falls short in this regard.

Originally published here

Europe’s Agriculture Reform Is Failing

The European Union commissioner for the European Green Deal has left, a farmers’ party has taken control of the Dutch senate, French president Emmanuel Macron says regulatory changes shouldn’t be rushed, and the EU’s largest political group is openly opposing reform plans that had been years in the making. It is not looking good for the farm policy reform that the European Union had been promising.

Legislation in Europe either dies a quiet death or goes out with a lot of fanfare. The “Farm to Fork” strategy by the European Union is on track to do the latter. Its flagship proposal to halve the use of pesticides by 2030 and set aside 10 percent of agricultural land to protect biodiversity has hit a brick wall: Austria, Poland and Hungary are stalling negotiations, possibly dragging them out until the European elections next June. The pesticide reduction element of the plans formulated in the Sustainable Use of Pesticide Regulation has faced opposition for practical and political reasons.

Early on, farmers’ groups opposed the law because it would undermine Europe’s food production industry. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture did an impact assessment on Farm to Fork, it found that it would significantly increase agricultural prices and even contract the European economy. That was before the economic effects of COVID-19 had manifested itself fully and before the war in Ukraine had started. Still, the European Commission held firm throughout the mountain of criticism; Green Deal Commissioner Frans Timmermans even said, “We’ve gotten used to food being too cheap.”

Last summer, Netherlands farmers upended European politicians’ illusion that agriculture as a policy area could simply be swept under the rug. Large-scale protests by farmers addressed the issue of nitrogen emissions, which the Dutch government sought to cut to follow EU rules. Livestock farming, responsible in part for those emissions (as is construction and aviation), was explicitly targeted by a buy-out program seeking to reduce by almost a third the number of livestock farms in the Netherlands. Despite that, in their anger, farmers burned hay balls and blocked access to airports, public opinion was on their side. In the recent senate elections in the Netherlands, the Farmers’ Citizen Movement became the strongest party, now set to have a significant say in the policymaking of the country.

The political happenings in the Netherlands served as a wake-up call for political parties across Europe, specifically those on the center-right who had traditionally counted on the support of farmers and now see themselves threatened by the emergence of single-issue farmer parties in elections. Other than protesting, Dutch farmers have shown there is a political angle for them to embark on and that farmers as food providers have a much higher public standard than previously recognized.

Timmermans is now exiting his job to run for prime minister. Given his record on environmental policy, it’s hard to tell whether Dutch voters will give him a chance.

Farmers certainly won’t. 

Meanwhile, the center-right European People’s Party is pitching itself as the farmers’ party, even warning that farmland reductions could lead to “global famine” and put “farmers out of business.”

While the last European elections in 2019 gave more leeway to environmentalists, who have tried to implement ambitious targets, it looks as if the realities of the COVID pandemic, the economic troubles that have ensued from it, and the war in Ukraine will be preventing them from following through with their plans. It is likely that we’ll see a shift to the center and center-right and by that standard, a different agricultural policy.

One positive change that has been announced and will land on the negotiating table of the next European Commission is the authorization of gene-edited crops. Until now, the commercialization of new genomic techniques in food production has been virtually impossible. But with those legal changes, Europe will finally catch up to the technological realities of the United States and Canada.

From the perspective of European strategic autonomy, the fact that the Farm to Fork strategy is likely to fail is good news because Europe cannot afford increased food dependence. Both animal feed and fertilizer imports were coming from Ukraine and Russia until the war upended the reliance Europe had on both countries. Reducing the environmental effect of farming by reducing the size of the sector cannot be a forward-looking strategy for Europe.

Originally published here

Why isn’t agriculture an issue in presidential debates?

In 2016 and 2020 , farmers overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for president. The track record of his administration justifies the choice, as Trump appointed agency directors who reversed unnecessarily strict Obama-era regulations on chemical crop protection products that are essential for fighting pests and preserving yields. 

Now, with President Joe Biden nearing the end of his term and having gone back to much of the Obama years of the Environmental Protection Agency opening the floodgates on pesticide regulation while injecting large green stimulus into the farm sector, where is agriculture as an issue in the national debate?

Much of the presidential debates involve rehashing points of the last two presidential terms. Gun rights, immigration, and the conduct of Trump during his time in office are certainly important topics, but the impact of farming policy on consumers cannot be understated. In recent years, matters such as repeated fires at livestock farms (which killed half a million farm animals in 2022), the increase in farm pests due to climate change, supply shortages and higher costs due to hurricanes , the nationwide herbicide shortage , and 5% food price inflation hitting consumers all contributed to a less resilient farm and food system in the United States.

Meanwhile, the debates on the 2023 Farm Bill once again focus mostly on SNAP benefits and eligibility , leaving aside a much more opportune conversation on the productivity and independence of the farm system. What are practical solutions to the fertilizer shortage during a sanctions regime on Russia? How much of a role should the government have in conservation or organic agriculture through farm subsidies? Is it reasonable that the U.S. continues a long array of court battles over pesticides when decisions over authorizations should instead be made in Congress after advice from scientific bodies? These are questions that aren’t being asked to presidential candidates, even though once in office, the president has a key impact on those matters through his or her agency appointments.

It is true that farmers aren’t regarded as a significant enough voting bloc during elections. Direct-on-farm employment represented a little over 1% of total employment in 2023. That said, when we take all of the agricultural and food sectors into account, that makes for a good 10% of the total workforce, which gains exponential importance, especially in key swing states. 

It may also be that farmers have fallen victim to the effect of being taken for granted. As they overwhelmingly support Republican candidates, Democrats feel like it is easier for them to paint farming as an environmental problem rather than addressing the intricacies and challenges of modern farming and the real hardships that professionals face. This is why farmer representatives would be better served to align their interests with those of consumers.

onsumers are often unaware of the backbreaking work put into their food supply and how regulatory changes affect the prices they see in supermarkets. When appeals to an administration are made not merely to protect the interests of farmers but also of those who buy their products, that is where the voter base inflates.

Framing agriculture not merely as a niche policy issue but as one that affects purchasing power and consumer well-being can help shed more light on the views of presidential candidates, and it can pull agriculture out of its obscurity into the spotlight it deserves.

Originally published here

Government: Hungary remains GMO-free 

The Hungarian government is not planning to change its strategy of keeping the country’s agriculture free of GMOs, the agriculture ministry said on Thursday, noting that the European Union had started negotiations on the regulation of new genetic technologies (NGT).

According to a draft published by the European Commission last week, produce created using NGT would fall into two categories, the first of which would no longer be governed by current GMO regulations, the ministry said, adding that in the absence of any prior risk assessment, labelling or monitoring, organisms may enter the environment. As for the second category, licensing procedures would be made much easier, “with far less data and impact analyses than that which apply to existing GMO“. Moreover, in the case of some organisms, “follow up would be absent and any harmful effects would never be assessed.”

Read the full text here

Birds and Bees, Beware: New York’s Anti-Pesticide Bill Will Backfire 

Through recently passed legislation, the New York state legislature aims to abolish certain insecticides in defense of the “birds and bees.” 

The chemicals in question, called neonicotinoids, are commonly used in crop production to shield crops from undesired insects — including aphids, which spread the beet yellows virus. 

Lawmakers have been convinced by environmental activist groups that these products kill large swaths of pollinators, and should thus be banned for use by farmers in the state. 

Yet they’ve been misled. If the Birds and Bees Protection Act is signed into law by Governor Hochul, the effects on farmers will be severe, and pesticide use in the Empire State will only increase.

Like most poor public policy, the Birds and Bees Protection Act is built on faulty premises and a feel-good name. The statistics on pollinator decline and colony collapse disorder have long been falsely associated with the use of insecticides. 

Before insecticides were blamed for “killing the bees,” it used to be bioengineered food that was in the crosshairs of activists. 

This assumption was never backed up by evidence, and administrations on both sides of the aisle have come to recognize the incredible climate mitigation and efficiency opportunities associated with genetically engineered food. 

Bees are mostly affected by viruses and habitat loss. While it is possible for regional declines to occur, it is important to note that the honeybee population is well managed, and in no way threatened by extinction. 

The size of the honeybee population is one of the causes of threats to other bee species, and has researchers frustrated by the misguided attention brought solely onto neonics. Effects on non-managed — or wild — bees are harder to count because they are… wild, and thus hard to count. 

Significant problems exist with the methodology applied to identify declines in wild bees. The same flawed methods have been applied to prove a broader insect decline, which also have also been consistently debunked.

It’s impossible to ignore the demography behind legislation like the so-called Birds and Bees Protection Act. 

City-dwelling liberals have a rather romanticized understanding of food production and ecosystem management based on their knack for beekeeping in relatively small backyard gardens. 

Rural communities who produce and manage New York’s food supply, as well as its vital relationship to pollinators, do in fact know better. We’ve already seen how this plays out based on neonics bans in Europe which backfired on farmers, consumers and pollinators alike.

In the European Union, several countries implemented exemptions on neonic bans after they were close to ruining local farmers. The European exemption policy is not just nerve-wracking for all involved actors, it also gives farmers no certainty for the future. 

The Birds and Bees Protection Act circumvents regulatory agencies by banning the products outright, then requires those agencies to make lengthy determinations on appropriate emergency use. It is a cumbersome process that isn’t fair to farmers.

Cutting out regulatory agencies from the process was notably why Governor Newsom of California vetoed a bill that would have similarly banned neonics for non-agricultural use late last year.

Advocates for pollinators mean well, but don’t understand agriculture. One of the known effects of neonics bans in Europe has been that farmers turn to alternative types of chemicals to shield their crops. It has been shown that the use of substitute products reduces their yield and increases insect resistance — all factors that end up being worse for the environment and biodiversity. 

Are we telling farmers that they should acquire more land to account for crop losses, or use products that are sometimes ill-equipped to adequately protect their fields? 

That would be grim news for the over 25,000 farm employees in New York State, who rely on stable yields and a toolbox of reliable methods to protect their farms from invasive species. 

If yields aren’t guaranteed, then we could — as happened in France — expect rising prices in the crop production sector. For New Yorkers already eating the cost of rapid inflation, agricultural regulation of this sort is not responsible. 

Legislation should require more than a noble sounding name and good intentions to become law, and the Birds and Bees Protection Act offers nothing more than that. 

Originally published here

The US is right to take aim at Europe’s protectionist food policies

As the World Trade Organization is meeting in Geneva this week, Biden administration officials have taken aim at Europe’s protectionist trade policies.

The US Ambassador to the WTO, Maria Pagán, laid out ‘persistent barriers’ that American goods and services face to enter the European market. High on the agenda were EU food and wine standards, which disproportionately put American producers at a disadvantage.

The EU’s ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy – a roadmap to fundamentally reform agricultural policies in the bloc – will only extend those existing transatlantic disputes. The core issue is not just that Brussels is already subsidising its farmers to an even larger extent than the US, but that it now increasingly requires trade partners to adopt its own policies.

A good example is the application of chemical crop protection: last year, the EU announced that it would demand importers refuse any food products treated with neonicotinoid insecticides, despite the fact that EU member countries still have emergency derogations for these chemicals. American farmers use these chemicals to prevent major crop losses through crop-eating insects.

As Pagán rightly noted in Geneva, the EU’s insistence on exporting its production standards to trade partners are ‘not appropriate, effective, or efficient in other parts of the world’, and will reduce the sustainability of food systems for non-European producers. The correct application of crop protection ensures sustainability because it guarantees high yields and thus reduces inputs, which is why the American food model is not merely more productive, but also more sustainable than the European one.

Intriguingly,. the EU’s experiment with farm policy is now being called into question in its own parliament. Indeed, the largest grouping in the European Parliament recently withdrew its support of a law that would cut pesticide use in half by 2030, citing concerns over rising food costs, as well as the effects of the policy on farmers. As Europe faces the repercussions of the war in Ukraine, the political goals of a policy dreamt up a decade prior seems like far less of a priority.

From the standpoint of trade policy, the EU is backing itself into a corner. During Donald Trump’s presidency, the US was widely seen as both protectionist and disorganised, with the administration treating the WTO more like a trading floor than a serious international organisation. However, there’s been little sign of a return to ‘normal’ since Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House – although that is not down to the US alone.

For in recent years the EU’s obsessively unilateral approach to agricultural reforms has been exposed as both impractical and inconsiderate of other nations’ food policies. It’s a stance that tells the rest of the world: no new breeding technologies, no conventional farming, no high-yield farming, no ostensible competition with European producers. To give a particularly absurd example, Brussels even restricts the words ‘tawny’, ‘ruby’, ‘reserve’, ‘classic’, and ‘chateau’ on imported bottles of American wine, just in case anyone mistakes them for the more ‘authentic’ European versions.

It is consumers on both sides of the Atlantic who pay the price for the EU’s intransigence and pettiness, with less product choice and higher prices. That’s why it’s encouraging to see the US Trade Representative and other officials holding the line when it comes to their farmers’ interests – and pushing back against Brussels’ protectionists, hyper-cautious, anti-consumer approach to agricultural policy.

Originally published here

For the farm bill to do any good, it needs to prioritize this one thing

Is the farm bill a welfare program for slackers or the last-ever chance to create a sustainable food model for the future? Listening to Republicans and Democrats, those seem to be the only two choices.

The $1 trillion-plus spending package that is the 2023 farm bill is set to become an unprecedented point of contention in Congress. The farm bill has traditionally been a bipartisan effort; however, lawmakers on the Republican bench are concerned over the implications of the bill for the debt ceiling.

The farm bill is a five-year legislative plan that governs much of America’s food production. It dictates everything from how food is made to who has access to it, including everything from farmer training to crop insurance and food research. Arguably, programs such as these are expensive because, evidently, so is agriculture. 

The United States is not alone in this aspect, given the fact that the European Union uses more than a third of its annual budget for farming and regional development. However, the largest factor for the sizable price tag is nutrition programs, covering a welfare aspect that has far less consensus in Congress: food stamps.

House Republicans believe that the farm bill should limit access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by changing work requirements for its beneficiaries. In plain English, this means: If you’re able-bodied and do not have children, food stamps will only be accessible if you’re over the age of 55, from the existing 49. 

While it is important to look at the sizable cost of SNAP payments in the farm bill, both Republicans and Democrats should strive for a more thorough vision of agriculture. The price of food stamp policies is also defined by the overall cost of food.

The other pricey section of the farm bill consists of subsidies for farmers through direct payments and insurance policies. It is true that the United States subsidizes agriculture to a lesser extent than its European counterparts, all while guaranteeing a more sustainable and efficient food sector. The U.S. also shines on free trade compared to EU policies, as it implements fewer tariffs, and subsidizes and exports less, making sure it faces fewer World Trade Organization challenges than other countries. That said, the U.S. has increased the reliance of farmers on income support through direct producer payments, as Department of Agriculture research outlines.

A question lawmakers should be asking is whether the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation even needs to continue being a federal government program when private insurance companies provide similar services. On top of that, it would be important for USDA to conduct an impact assessment on the cost implications for farmers of the chemical policies that the federal government implements.

In fact, regulatory restrictions on chemical crop protection products negatively affect how reliably farmers can supply our supermarkets. The Environmental Protection Agency silently pushes out synthetic pesticides and would rather have consumers purchase much pricier organic products. Now granted, if consumers wish to shop organic, that is their choice. However, we cannot expect the public to shift to products with price premiums of up to 100% just because the administration has decided that crop protection methods that have been deemed safe by other agencies now suddenly ought to be phased out. 

Many environmental groups are pushing for tighter regulations on pesticides because they long for what they assume were the good old days in which farms were small and tractors were car-sized. The reality they haven’t faced is that the world has moved on and that nobody wants to move back to the consumer purchasing power of the 1950s.

Regulation has a hidden price tag, and if the administration wants to have a serious discussion about the sustainability and viability of the farm sector, it needs to be transparent about all of these costs, not just try to score a flawed deal to avoid a government shutdown.

Farm subsidies are far from being an ironclad guarantee that food will be either available or affordable. For that to happen, we need to analyze the entire food chain and its regulations to determine whether or not our own fear of crop protection chemicals is actually the cause of many of our ills.

Originally published here

Agriculture set to become next hot political issue

Whether it’s Mexico’s threat of banning the import of American corn, or the five-year revamp of the American Farm Bill, agriculture is not merely about growing food. As the politics of farming affects the livelihoods of each American, it transforms agricultural policy into an electoral issue.

The Biden administration recently announced the creation of a $1 billion grant fund to aid farmers in their renewable energy transition. The money comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and seeks to allow ranchers and rural farmers to make investments in their green energy efficiency. It is one of the many instances in which governments are seeking to reshape farming policies to match green agendas – whether it’s in Washington or over in Europe.

Agriculture is blamed for many environmental woes of our time, from carbon dioxide to methane and nitrous oxide emissions, despite the fact that the sector has for decades ensured that Americans buy their food at affordable prices while reducing its environmental footprint, especially compared to Europe. These “green” funding mechanisms act as a means to buy the consent of farmers who are constantly affected by stringent regulations on their profession. Arguably, there is leeway for politicians to buy the silence of farmers by simply injecting more subsidies into the equation, yet there are also discernible limits. One government that found that out the hard way is the Netherlands.

When the Dutch government decided to phase out a large chunk of livestock farming by simply buying farmers out of their profession, they took to the streets, setting hay bales on fire and blocking Amsterdam’s busy airport. The international news attention and the upset of the local population over food price inflation led to the Farmer’s Movement taking most seats in the recent Senate elections in the Netherlands, putting pressure on the government to change course. In fact, the effect of farmers turning into politicians has had ripple effects on European politics. The European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament (the legislative body of the European Union), now rejects the goal of the EU of cutting pesticide use by 50% by 2030. This puts one of the cornerstone policies of the European Green Deal in jeopardy.

In the United States, the vote of farmers themselves has been cornered by Republicans, who raked up a vast majority of their vote in 2016, according to polls. Under the Trump administration, a large section of Obama-era regulatory controls were rolled back. America’s most popular weed killer, atrazine, was no longer a target by the EPA, and the insecticide chlorpyrifos was re-authorized. However, the Biden administration has picked up where Obama left off, leaving farmers in a state of insecurity at a time when affordable food is in increasingly shorter supply. Granted, compared to Europe, where politicians are grappling with the very palpable geopolitics of Ukrainian grain imports and Russian fertilizer supplies, the American food system appears very resilient. That said, if the White House chooses – as it increasingly does – to go down a European-style agricultural reform, it jeopardizes the food security of Americans and the livelihood of farmers.

For Massachusetts, crop protection rules are as important as in states with larger agricultural production. Crops such as corn, tomatoes, blueberries, potatoes, pumpkins and other greenhouse and nursery crops represent a well over $100 million industry. Adding to that, if Massachusetts were to be compelled to enforce nitrous oxide emissions reductions such as those sought out in the Netherlands, it would decimate the over $80 million dairy and livestock sector in the state.

Food crops must compete with 30,000 species of weeds, 3,000 species of nematodes and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects. Despite the fact that chemical crop protection is used, farmers still lose between 20% and 40% of their crops each year. The more we restrict the toolbox available to farmers to fight pests, the less productive they can be. Innovation in the farming sector is key to improving the profitability of farms, and while USDA has understood the importance of new technologies, regulators and politicians need to understand that before they can realistically phase out the old, the new needs to be affordable and available to them.

A lot of agricultural policy is niche policy talk for nerds, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, voters have identified two key ways in which it affects their lives: is the food on the shelves, and how much does it cost? The ramifications of Biden’s regulatory approach to farming affect both of these questions, and that, politically seen, isn’t good news for Democrats.

Originally published here

How Russia Props Up Anti-Science Narratives In Agriculture

As the now year-old war in Ukraine continues to unravel, so do the stories revealing the ruthlessness with which the Russian state has not only intervened in political discourse, but also in areas of global public debate. There are those untruths that further the interests of the Kremlin in a palpable geopolitical way: think “Ukraine has a Nazi government” or “the Maidan Revolution was a U.S.-backed coup”. These lies created fertile soil for skepticism of the wide-scale Western support of Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s aggression, sowing distrust in the institutions of liberal democracies.

The Russian modus operandi isn’t only direct misinformation but also false equivalencies. Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in particular, Russia Today (RT) all across Europe have overemphasized protests in European capitals and given voice to commentators who believe that elections are rigged or institutions controlled by a deep state. The audience left with a critical takeaway: ‘if our own government cheats on us, how can we trust them when they call Russia authoritarian?’ 

Fostering mistrust with their governments is one thing, but now they are being led to believe they cannot trust their food either. For decades, the Russian propaganda machine has distorted the views of Americans on GMOs – despite the fact that most scientists agree they are safe for consumption. Research by the Iowa State University Plant Sciences Institute Faculty Scholars Program found that RT and Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik were the most prolific spreaders of misinformation about transgenic organisms. The extent to which both of these “news” outlets portrayed GM crops in a negative light far outperforms even the coverage of American news organizations traditionally skeptical of genetic engineering. In fact, RT and Sputnik produced more articles containing the word “GMO” than Fox News, CNN, Huffington Post, and Breitbart combined. 

In April last year, Russia Today positively mentioned Trump-backed Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz for “butting heads with Big Pharma and the GMO food lobby”. The site also regularly hosts conspiracy theorist Vandana Shiva, who denounces how the ‘Poison Cartel’ instigates “totalitarian control over life”. The readers of RT will also hear about how Bill Gates exploits the war in Ukraine to advance genetically modified crops or how ‘gene-edited crops are GMOs with a different name’ (which is scientifically inaccurate).

Russian propagandists are exploiting the fact that agricultural regulations are a highly complex and niche issue that requires sufficient background to fully understand. In fact, those who are the most virulently opposed to GMOs happen to know the least about them

Americans are split over the benefits of modern agricultural technology. Half of the country is of the impression that food additives (including the fact that agro-chemicals and conventional processing methods were used), and to an equal extent, half of the population believes that GM crops are worse for one’s health than foodstuffs for which no genetic engineering was employed.

The sowing of distrust in the institutions regulating the farming system, presenting it as being controlled by large corporations, is key to the narrative of disinformation campaigns. That said, Russia also seeks to gain from the specific regulatory implications of those beliefs. While Russia does have laws on the books restricting the use of GMOs, it does not have specific regulations that govern the use of new gene-editing technology. Europe has based its restrictions on gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 dating back to 2001, a decade before this specific technology came into the spotlight. Gene-editing can be used to enrich crops to give crops the nitrogen they need to grow, thus reducing the amount of synthetic fertilizers. 

In 2022, Russia’s revenues from fertilizer exports increased by 70%, as they are exempt from Western sanctions imposed since the war in Ukraine began. As the European Union seeks to reduce fertilizer imports from Russia in new sanctions packages, it is also working on a rewrite of the 2001 directive to draw the distinction between GMOs and gene-edited crops.

It is important to note that many environmentalists have opposed aspects of modern agricultural practices from ideological perspectives that have little to do with Russian interference. It is ultimately the choice of each consumer to buy organic foodstuffs or locally sourced from agroecological practices if they so choose. A McCarthyist branding of environmentalist reforms as being pro-Russia is neither fair nor productive. Meanwhile, it is equally important to point out that Russia has used some organizations as a vehicle for its economic interests, particularly in energy policy.

According to ae letter sent to then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by U.S. representatives Lamar Smith and Randy Weber, Hillary Clinton told a private audience in 2016, “We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians …”. Several elements point in this direction. WWF Germany, BUND (Friends of the Earth), and NABU (Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union), three environmental organizations who were avowed opponents of Germany’s NordStream pipelines with Russia, dropped their opposition after Gazprom promised funding for environmental protection, according to information revealed in 2011. Representatives of European environmental organizations were board members of a multi-million dollar Gazprom-controlled foundation, raising questions about the political objectives of these organizations.

France’s far-right politician Marine Le Pen – herself having received a $10 million loan from a Russian bank – believes that no distinction should be drawn within GM crops, including those derived from gene-editing technology. Other right-wing parties in Europe hold comparably negative views on the authorization of new varieties in Europe.

The arrival of new agricultural technology presents the opportunities of addressing food safety, security, affordability, and sustainability. There are political and economic incentives for the Russian state to distort the scientific reality of those innovations, presenting major difficulties. It holds true that it is always more difficult to make a corrected record mainstream than to spread a lie.

Originally published here

Dutch Farmers’ Party Election Win Foreshadows Europe’s Environmental Battles

The Farmer-Citizen Movement, or BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), won big in the recent Dutch provincial elections, raking up a whopping 15 of the 75 seats in the Senate. This makes it the strongest party in the Netherlands’ upper chamber, with the ability to undermine the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The BBB was created in 2019, but it gathered popular support after the government decided to cut nitrogen emissions by closing down about a third of Dutch farms.

Last summer, Dutch farmers protested the government’s planned policy by blocking roads and airports, and throwing manure on government officials. The government in The Hague attempts to follow EU guidelines by slashing nitrogen emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Nitrous oxide and methane emissions are byproducts of livestock, for instance, when manure deposes. 

The Netherlands — along with Denmark, Ireland and the Flanders region of Belgium — had exemptions on EU manure caps because of their small land areas, but that exemption is set to end for Dutch farmers. Rutte’s government aims to reduce emissions by buying out livestock farmers — even though they have expressed little interest in gift cards.

BBB has faced criticism for its anti-immigration views and hostility toward EU enlargement, but its success in the polls has little to do with a right-wing shift in the Netherlands. In fact, not only did the recent election attract voters who used the provincial election as a poll on the government, but it also was a significant blow to far-right parties who lost big — most severely the Forum for Democracy party.

This leaves the Dutch government with one of two options. Pretend it’s a phase, exploit the fact that this new party will inevitably make errors in communication, and carry on — or change policy. The latter might become inevitable, not merely because the government needs Senate approval for these reduction targets. While Rutte’s coalition can find the votes on the far left, this strategy would come with its own downsides. Green and far-left senators are likely to support the targets but demand even more ambitious goals going forward, which would only aggravate the political climate. Rutte, known as “Teflon Mark” (for his ability to weather multiple political crises), is also confronted with the possibility of members of his own four-party coalition getting cold feet in the process.

The political happenings in the Netherlands are a symptom of what is likely to happen around Europe. Agriculture, a field usually reserved for wonky policy debates and hourlong yawn-inducing committee meetings, is becoming center-stage in Europe’s green ambitions. The farm sector is undeniably responsible for a large part of greenhouse gas emissions, but it has unjustly ended up on the chopping block of simplistic rulemaking. 

The Dutch policy of phasing out one-third of farms came from the fact that the only realistic way of cutting emissions reliably would be to severely downsize the aviation and construction sector, neither of which the Netherlands can realistically afford given its economic activity. The decision to target farmers as a last resort is emblematic of the European approach that will create a lot of hostility: It is the perfect story for creating populist movements.

For the past decade, Europe has made far-reaching promises on emissions targets. But now that the EU and its member states face the reality of how those will be achieved, it will likely get ugly. 

The “Farm to Fork” strategy of the European Union is experiencing the same fate: the European Commission’s agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, has said he believes that F2F unfairly puts Eastern European member states at a disadvantage even though he is the person supposed to defend the policies of reducing pesticide, fertilizer and farmland use.

 According to an impact assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the strategy would lead to a decline in agricultural production between 7 percent and 12 percent. Meanwhile, the EU’s decline in GDP would represent 76 percent of the decline in the worldwide GDP. This would hit low-income households, which are already suffering from inflation.

The last few years saw the marches of young climate activists who issued ambitious policy wish lists. In the next few years, it will be the marches of those who must pay for them.

Originally published here

Scroll to top