Agriculture

Fake pesticides threaten consumer health

Counterfeiting is a real problem…

European institutions, particularly on the European Parliament’s legislative level, constantly debate and seek to regulate the use of crop protection tools. The catalogue of available products is getting thinner every year, which has been criticised by farmers. However, making chemical compounds or products illegal does not automatically rid the market of their presence. In fact, the ill effects of prohibition apply to the agricultural sector to the same extent as other consumption areas. 

In 2018, the European Union Intellectual Property Office stated that €1.3 billion are lost every year in Europe due to fake pesticides. This translates to €299 million and 500 jobs lost per year in Germany, €240 million and 500 jobs each year lost in France, and €185 million and 270 jobs lost annually in Italy.

In 2018, EUROPOL revealed that some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides were seized in Europe in a joint effort with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Counterfeit pesticides, now estimated to represent 14% of the European crop protection market, pose serious health risks to consumers. They are not subject to the rigorous safety assessments of food safety authorities. Adding to that, untested products can also lead to considerable harvest loss, resulting in less food security for European consumers.

Recent numbers make the 2018 statistics pale in comparison. In 2020, EUROPOL stated that 1,346 tonnes of counterfeits, illegal, and unregulated products had been taken off the market, or the equivalent of 458 Olympic-sized pools, with a total worth of €94 million of criminal profits seized. In the illegal trade raids, one can also notice an uptick in seizures of illegal pesticides, which relates to non-approved products. Year after year, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) records the presence of unapproved pesticides in European food. As a result, there have been calls upon member states to increase their inquiries into the imports of non approved pesticides into the European Union. In an effort to tackle this problem at its roots, we believe that a re-evaluation, conjointly with farmers associations, of the approval of these substances is a sensible solution. Suppose the European Union or member states outlaw a chemical substance due to health concerns, yet the ban results in an uptick in illegal trade with absolutely no safety assessment. In that case, a sensible compromise solution that takes into account the worries of producers while respecting the safety of consumers is in order.

Note on the illicit trade with fertilisers: In 2012, the Danish newspaper “Politiken” published an extensive report on the prevalence of illicit trade with fertilisers, which triggered a question to the European Commission about the extent of this problem. In a written answer, the Commissioner in charge replied in July of 2012 that Berlaymont was not aware of illegal trade in this area, and assured the necessary observation and enforcement mechanism were in motion to avoid it. Given the extent of fraudulent trade with organic food and the prevalent spread of fake pesticides, we believe that an investigation into the existence of illicit fertilisers in Europe is opportune.

Illicit trade is a significant challenge for societies in today’s globalised world. From cosmetics to medicines and agricultural products, illicit trade is putting millions of consumers around the globe at risk. The scope of the problem is transnational, and, therefore, the cost of misguided policies is very high. Our goal should be to create and sustain the conditions under which there would be no incentive to turn to the black market. This can be achieved by reducing tax burdens, enhancing branding and marketing freedom, introducing harsher penalties for fraudulent trading practices, and ensuring transparency across the EU.

Originally published here.

The Commission’s organic ambitions will be paid by consumers

Consumers will foot the bill for extravagant organic goals…

As I’ve previously explained on this website, the EU’s organic ambitions are seriously misled, because contrary to popular belief, organic food is neither environmentally friendly, nor better for consumers. Research has established that moving all current farming to organic farming would increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 70%. Researchers analysed the hypothetical move of Welsh and English farm production to organic and found that reduced crop yields in organic farming increased the need to import food from overseas. Including the GHGs emitted growing that food abroad — a part of the equation often ignored advocates of organic agriculture — total GHGs emitted would increase between 21% in the best-case scenario to an astounding 70%, depending on how much natural habitat and forest had to be cleared to make up for the decline caused by England’s and Wales’ switch to organic production.

The recently released Organic Action Plan of the European Commission explains how exactly Berlaymont wants to boost organic production from the current 8 per cent to 25 per cent. On top of that, the Commission seeks to respond to the concerns of farmer’s unions, who remarked that if consumer demand does not match the supply, then they could be affected by serious price instabilities.

Two points in ‘Axis 1’ of the plan strike me:

  • promote organic canteens and increase the use of green public procurement;
  • reinforce organic school scheme

In essence, the Commission is trying to boost organic demand by forcing public institutions to adopt them in their canteens. This point remains vague, better it’s expected that the EU will adopt further subsidies for organic agriculture:

  • promote organic farming and the EU logo

Once again, consumers will be asked to foot the bill for agricultural ambitions of the EU. 

That said, the Organic Action Plan also includes the very necessary fight against fraud in the organic sector.

In its 2019 report titled “The control system for organic products has improved, but some challenges remain”, the European Court of Auditors found structural problems with the control system of organic food trade, despite controls being implemented in 1991. In a section on the communication on non-compliance, the ECA writes: 

“In Bulgaria, we found that some control bodies notified the competent authority about certain types of non-compliances only through their annual reporting. The competent authority did not notice this during its supervisory activities. In Czechia, we found that on average control bodies took 33 days in 2016 and 55 days in 2017 to report a non-compliance affecting the organic status of a product to the competent authority.”

The report also notes that non-compliance communication delays are 38 calendar days on average in the European Union, while existing regulations stipulate that reporting should happen without delay. This means that non-compliant organic products, i.e. fraudulent organic trade, continue a month on average in the legal circulation of the European single market, before being flagged to consumers.

The ECA also notes that member states were delayed in their reporting to the European Commission by an average of 4 months and that 50% of all analysed reports were missing information. China is the largest exporter of organic food to the European Union (based on weight, 2018 figures, from ECA report, see below). With significant difficulties concerning quality control of a large range of products originating from China, the EU institutions must prioritise the authenticity of these food imports

Overall, the Commission’s Plan is compiled of the problematic implementation of its organic ambitions at taxpayer’s expense, and the necessary fight against fraudulent imports. So we get the good, the bad, and once we get the stage of the directives, I fear we might see the ugly.

Originally published here.

The EU’s ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy Is Ill-Conceived and Destructive

There is ongoing disagreement between the popularly elected European Parliament and the executives in the European Commission over approvals of “genetically modified” (GM) crops, which are made with modern molecular genetic engineering techniques. In December, members of the European Parliament objected to authorizations of no fewer than five new GM crops — one soybean and four corn (maize) varieties — developed for food and animal feedstock. These objections follow dozens of others that have been made over the previous five years. (These are the same varieties that are ubiquitous in many other countries, including the United States.) A European Commission spokesperson has suggested that a new approach will be necessary to authorize such “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, in order to align with the new Farm to Fork Strategy, an agricultural strategy recently embraced by Europe:

“We look forward to constructive cooperation with the co-legislators on all these measures, which we believe will enable the achievement of a sustainable food system, including GMOs on which the EU feed sector is presently highly dependent.”

The latter part of this quote is, in fact, incomplete: There is extensive reliance of the EU on imports of both food and feed, of which a significant portion is genetically engineered. In 2018, for example, the EU imported about 45 million tons a year of GM crops for food and livestock feed. More specifically, the livestock sector in the EU depends heavily on imports of soy. According to Commission figures, in 2019-2020 the EU imported 16.87 million tonnes of soymeal and 14.17 million tonnes of soybeans, most of which came from countries where GM crops are widely cultivated. For example, 90% originates from four countries in which around 90% of cultivated soybeans are GM.

For a GM crop to enter the EU marketplace (whether for cultivation or to be used in food or feed, or for other purposes), an authorization is required. Applications for authorization are first submitted to a Member State, which forwards them to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In cooperation with Member States’ scientific bodies, EFSA assesses possible risks of the variety to human and animal health and the environment. Parliament itself plays no part in the authorization process, but it can oppose or demand rejection of a new GM crop based on any whim, prejudice, or the bleating of NGOs in their constituencies. They have chosen to ignore the sagacious observation of the 18th century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke that, in republics, “Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

GM crops have been shown repeatedly to pose no unique or systematic risks to human health or the environment. The policies articulated in Farm to Fork suggest a renewed interest by the EU in environmental sustainability but conveniently ignore that that is the essence of what GM crops can bring to the table. Numerous analyses, in particular those of economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, have demonstrated that the introduction of GM crops lessens the amount of chemical inputs, improves farm yields and farmer incomes, and reduces the need for tillage, thus reducing carbon emissions.  The indirect benefits from GM crops include empowering women farmers by removing the drudgery of weeding, and lowering the risk of cancer by lessening crop damage from insect pests whose predation can increase aflatoxin levels. Reducing crop damage in turn reduces food waste. GM crops can also improve farmers’ health by lessening the likelihood of pesticide poisoning, and GM biofortified crops can also provide nutritional benefits that are not found in conventional crops, a life-saving innovation for the rural poor in low- to middle-income countries.

The rift between the views of the European Parliament and EU scientific agencies such as the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) shows no signs of healing. Bill Wirtz of the Consumer Choice Center predicts that trying to achieve the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy will have “dire impacts.” To address a legacy of environmental degradation, the EU proposes by 2030 to increase organic farming by 25% and reduce pesticide application on farmland by 50%. These plans fail to consider that pesticide use has sharply decreased over the past 50 years and that organic agriculture does not necessarily imply lower carbon emissions; often, the opposite is true.

Wirtz goes on to describe how slack compliance laws across the EU have made food fraud a viable business model. A significant proportion of this fraudulent organic food stems from international imports from countries, such as China, with a history of inferior quality and violation of food standards. However, he observes, increasing the surveillance and enforcement of food imports standards and rejecting those that are fraudulent could jeopardize current food security efforts, as well as the economy of the EU as a whole, given the EU’s substantial dependency on food imports.

The Farm to Fork initiative gets support from occasional specious articles in the “scientific” literature. An example is a paper published last December in Nature Communications, “Calculation of external climate costs for food highlights /inadequate pricing of animal products” by German researchers Pieper et al. The paper, which illustrates the hazards of meta-analyses on poorly selected articles, describes the use of life-cycle assessment and meta-analytical tools to determine the external climate-warming costs of animal meat, dairy and plant-based food products, made with conventional versus organic practices. The authors calculate that external greenhouse gas costs are highest for animal-based products, followed by conventional dairy products, and lowest for plant-based products, and they recommend that policy changes be made in order to make currently “distorted” food prices better reflect these environmental “costs.” They also claim that organic farming practices have a lower environmental impact than conventional, and for that matter, GM crops. They failed, however, to reference the immense body of work of Matin Qaim, Brookes and Barfoot, and many others, documenting the role that GM crops have played in furthering environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and pesticide use, while increasing yield and farmers’ incomes. The omission of any reference to, or rebuttal of, that exemplary body of work is a flagrant flaw.

The paucity of GM versus organic crop data discussed in the paper is also deceptive. Anyone unfamiliar with the role of GM crops in agriculture would be left with the impression that organic crops are superior in terms of land use, deforestation, pesticide use and other environmental concerns. Yet many difficulties exist, especially, for pest management of organic crops, often resulting in lower yields and reduced product quality.

There is extensive and robust data suggesting that organic farming is not a viable strategy to reduce global GHG emissions. When the effects of land-use change are factored in, organic farming can result in higher global GHG emissions than conventional alternatives — which is even more pronounced if one includes the development and use of new breeding technologies, which are banned in organic farming.

Pieper et al claim — rather grandiosely, it seems to us — that their method of calculating the “true costs of food…could lead to an increase in the welfare of society as a whole by reducing current market imperfections and their resulting negative ecological and social impacts.” But that only works if we omit all the data on imported food and feed, turn a blind eye to the welfare of the poor, and disregard the impact of crop pests for which there is no good organic solution.

It is true that animal-based products have costs in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are not reflected in the price, that plant-based products have varying external climate costs (as have all non-food products that we consume), and that adopting policies that internalizing those costs as much as possible would be the best practice. Conventional farming often has significantly higher yields, especially for food crops (as opposed to hay and silage), than farming with organic practices. The adoption of agroecological practices mandated by Farm-to-Fork policies would greatly reduce agricultural productivity in the EU, and could have devastating consequences for food-insecure Africa. Europe is the major trading partner for many African countries, and European NGOs and government aid organizations exert profound influence over Africa, often actively discouraging the use of superior modern farming approaches and technologies, claiming that adoption of these tools conflicts with the EU’s “Green Deal” initiative. Thus, there is a negative ripple effect on developing countries of anti-innovation, anti-technology policies by influential industrialized countries.

Moreover, the EU even now imports much of its food, which as described above, has significant implications for its trading partners and Europe’s future food security. The EU seems to have failed to consider that continuing on the Farm to Fork trajectory will require endlessly increasing food imports, increasing food prices and jeopardizing quality. Or maybe they have just chosen to embrace the fad of the moment and kick the can down la rueAprès moi, le déluge.

Originally published here.

Video: ‘Science over unjustified cautiousness:’ Why UK should abandon Europe’s biotech crop rules

Many groups, including the Consumer Choice Center, have endorsed genetic technologies, and there is good reason to expect the UK government to finally choose science over unjustified cautiousness inherent to EU regulations.

“Boris Johnson has repeatedly mentioned his willingness to liberate the UK’s “extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules.” Such a policy would be a huge win for consumers and farmers, and at the same time it would also signal a momentous drift away from the European Union’s unjustified cautiousness towards these new technologies,” said Maria Chaplia, Research Manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

We at the Consumer Choice Center call on the UK government to take the path of more consumer choice and more science …. What are the benefits of enabling genetic engineering in the UK?

  • Approving GM pest-resistant crops could save about £60 million ($79 million) a year in pesticide use in the UK
  • More trade opportunities, including a trade deal with the US.
  • Improved agricultural performance with less labour and energy input and less cost input.
  • Reduced usage of pesticides and herbicides.

Originally published here.

AFRICA: a charter on agroecology is born

AFRICA: a charter on agroecology is born©Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock

The International Agroecological Movement For Africa, (I am Africa) aims to revolutionise African agriculture on a sustainable and environmentally friendly basis. This desire, which was started on the fringes of the “One Planet Summit 2021”, is governed by a charter that is open for signature by other companies willing to invest in future-oriented agro-ecological sectors in Africa.

This is the agricultural version of the third edition of the “One Planet Summit”. On the side-lines of this international summit on climate change, held on January11th, 2021 by videoconference, more than 100 African and European operators from across the agricultural value chain launched the International Agroecological Movement For Africa, (Iam Africa). The initiative is governed by a charter in which the signatories commit themselves to investing in agro-ecology in Africa. “The objective of the signatories is to participate in the promotion of a strategy that combines social, environmental and economic development for the prosperitý but also for the preservation of the biodiversitý and more generally of the continent’s stabilitý,” says Karim Ait Talb, co-founder of the initiative and deputy managing director of the Advens/Geocoton group.

The provisions of the charter give a large part of the project implementation to local companies and organisations. And the collaboration between the latter and European structures should encourage technology transfers and the appropriation of the know-how necessary for the sustainable establishment of the agricultural and livestock production sectors envisaged by this charter.

The Sahel region will be a priority

Iam Africa intends to deploy particularly in the Sahel region, considered to be one of the epicentres of global warming in the world. The signatories of the charter are indeed convinced that the establishment of an agro-livestock value chain encouraging the deployment of agro-ecological practices, and the creation of dignified and sustainable jobs, will constitute an important response for the adaptation of the populations of the region and the mitigation of the effects of climate change, particularly with regard to migration flows and security challenges. The intensification in the Sahel of projects carried out in the framework of Iam Africa should also contribute to the realisation of the Great Green Wall initiative by 2030.

However, it would be prudent for Iam Africa members to adapt the vision of their charter to local realities. For some experts warn against the popularisation of agro-ecology in developing countries. Its lack of mechanisation, GMOs and the use of synthetic fertilisers is a blow to agricultural production. A recent study by pro-agroecology activists showed that applying these principles to Europe would reduce agricultural productivity by an average of 35%. For Bill Wirtz, a public policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, if such a scenario were to occur in Africa, it would be a disaster for a continent where 20 per cent of the population suffers from hunger (2017), according to a UN report.

Originally published here.

Will the GMO vaccine change our views on genetic engineering?

New vaccines use genetic engineering, but the European Union has generally remained opposed to this technology…

The most prominent version of a COVID-19 vaccine was developed through genetic engineering. The is a novelty in vaccine science, because it allows for easier processes in the way we fight diseases such as COVID-19. As Cornell’s Alliance for Science explains:

“That’s what the “m” in mRNA stands for : messenger. Messenger RNA just carries instructions for the assembly of proteins from the DNA template to the ribosomes. (Proteins do almost everything that matters in the body.) That’s it.

This is useful for vaccines because scientists can easily reconstruct specific genetic sequences that encode for proteins that are unique to the invading virus. In the COVID case, this is the familiar spike protein that enables the coronavirus to enter human cells.”

For the European Union, this meant that the European Parliament had to approve a derogation of existing GMO legislation. In a statement, the Parliament said that “The derogation will facilitate the development, authorisation and consequently availability of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments”. According to EU legislation dating back to the early 2000s, genetic engineering is generally forbidden, with only a few exceptions. This was particularly driven by the scepticism of genetic engineering in agriculture.

Now that Europe is facing the largest health emergency in our lifetime, scientific innovation is desperately needed. This must be particularly confusing for all patients who could have been given more of a chance of survival if genetic engineering was allowed across the board for all treatments. The unfortunate reality is that GMOs have been so highly politicised that we have moved away from a sober evidence-based conversation. It is now politically viable to allow for scientific innovation to fight this virus but in the area of agriculture, we are still facing a dead end. If it is safe for vaccines, then shouldn’t we also trust the mountain of scientific evidence that it is safe in food?

Genetic engineering is technology, unlike any other. The precise genetic modification of crops has arisen not out of a need to interfere with nature, but out of necessity and thanks to human ingenuity. Early application of genetic engineering stood to solve the problems of complicated environments with challenging climates. As climate change progresses, these challenges will only grow larger.

Picture the state of human medicine prior to the development of certain advances. Ear or mouth infections or pneumonia led to the death of millions until penicillin came into widespread use. What is true in medicine, also applies for modern agriculture: high-yield farming has made our societies more advanced, provided us with a safer food supply, and has provided more food for fewer resources. The technologies of today are incomparable with those of 30 years ago. In fact, the invention of gene-editing has opened a new chapter for agriculture, allowing us to act precisely, with trusted experts. Pinpointed DNA-changes allow us to much more precisely target and understand the changes that we are making.

The GMO vaccine derogation is a first recognition that pinpointed DNA changes are safe and viable in human medicine. However, this was a realisation the Parliament was only able to reach because it was faced with unprecedented urgency. The concept of making this structural reform in the 2001 GMO Directive — which are necessary — is something that needs to be overcome politically. The scientific opinions are there: we know that genetic engineering can be conducted in a safe manner. What we now need to do is shift the conversation on the European stage, overcoming the unscientific narratives of many parliamentarians, and ushering in a new age of science in the European Union.

Originally published here.

Europe’s opposition to gene editing, pesticides means higher food prices for world’s poorest people

featured image blog

By 2070 the world will be populated by approximately 10.5 billion people. This means that we will need to be able to feed 3 billion additional humans every year. Fortunately, technological advances in agriculture and technology have helped us provide food for an extra 5.5 billion people in the last century compared to the 2 billion humans that populated the earth in 1920. According to the World Food Summit, since 1992, the number of hungry people in lower-middle-income countries has fallen by over 200 million, from 991 million to 790.7 million.

Stanford University estimated that if we would still use the farming technology of 1960, we would need additional farm land of Russia’s size, the world’s largest country, to earn the same yields as current technology. This is a huge success but also leaves us to the task of improving the situation of the remaining children and adults facing hunger as a daily challenge.

Unfortunately, the current political narrative in one of the world’s wealthiest regions seems to ignore the challenges ahead of us and wants us to turn to less efficient farming. The European Union’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy sets out to create a more sustainable food system by the end of this decade. However, looking at the currently proposed ideas, it is worrisome that this new policy framework will achieve the opposite of sustainable farming and lead not just Europe but the entire world in a potential food crisis with massive geopolitical ramifications.

The EU plans to increase the share of organic farming as a total of agricultural production from currently 7.5% to 25%. Additionally, they plan a reduction of 50% in pesticides. At the same time, the F2F strategy does not embrace new technologies that allow farmers to achieve the same yields they are able to produce using the current level of pesticides.

For several reasons, including its low yields and the consequent need to bring more land into agricultural production, organic farming is particularly detrimental to meeting the world’s food demand.

What does this mean for feeding 10.5 billion people in 2070?

world population

More organic farming in Europe means lower yields of EU food production and higher prices for consumers. The shortage in Europe will be likely compensated by additional food imports from other parts of the world. This will lead to a global increase in food prices. For affluent regions of the world such as Europe, this will be rather a nuisance for consumers. This will have very negative consequences for people already living at the edge of existence and facing hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that farmers globally would lose 30%-40% of their crops due to pests and diseases if they don’t have crop protection tools such as insecticides or herbicides on hand. Up to 28% of all liver cancers worldwide can be attributed to aflatoxins, a mycotoxin type. Without allowing farmers to apply fungicides that reduce human exposure to these toxins, we keep risking millions of lives.

food production

In the last 100 years, pesticides have been proven to be a necessary evil in achieving higher and more predictable crop yields. In the past 60 years, we have seen a reduction of 40% in pesticide use per acre, and many less safe substances have been phased out. The emergence of genetically modified crops and the latest breakthroughs in gene editing allows a further reduction of spraying chemicals on the fields.

About 20% of the world population lives in South Asia. Due to India’s caste system farmers of the lowest castes live and farm on land that is more likely to experience regular floodings, with detrimental results for their rice harvest. Gene-edited crops allow the rice to submerge underwater for up to two weeks and still provide high yields. Such technologies are a clear game-changer for the poor and hungry and should be embraced. There’s no humanitarian case against them but a strong one for them.

gene editing game changer

Unfortunately, many critics of pesticides also oppose the use of gene editing. This leads to a dilemma that ultimately brings us to less food produced while global food demand will keep growing. One does not need to be an economist to understand that this will result in higher food prices.

We all have seen the dramatic refugee crisis in 2015 including all the terrible suffering and drowning of children and women in the Mediterranean. While the EU’s policies did not trigger this crisis, our future agricultural policies might cause widespread famines in parts of Africa and Asia. They might start a migration wave we haven’t seen since the migration period in the 5th and 6th centuries. History unfortunately shows that such massive uncontrolled migration streams usually also come with war and unrest.

The ‘western’ idea of making farming more organic will lead to a global food price inflation and hurt those that already struggle. We indeed all share one planet and therefore need to have sensible food policies that acknowledge hunger still being a problem 10% of the world population faces daily. No one, no matter if one is a proponent of mass migration or not, should desire a massive influx of starving people. Several adjustments to the EU’s future policies are needed in order to mitigate many negative drivers of poverty and hunger.

The EU’s Farm to Fork strategy needs to take this into account and not jeopardize our ability to feed an ever-growing population.

Fred Roeder is a consumer advocate and health economist from Germany and has worked in healthcare reform in North America, Europe, and several former Soviet Republics. Since 2012 he has served as an associated researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute. Fred can be found on Twitter @FredCyrusRoeder

Originally published here.

Our “sustainable” food policy leaves us with unsustainable trade

The ambitious targets of the F2F strategy will cause headaches for the EU’s trade policy.

The European Commission has laid out an ambitious plan with the Farm to Fork strategy, which is set to flip agriculture in Europe upside down. For the EU, agriculture is to blame for much of the lack of sustainability in Europe, forcing farmers to pick up much of the burden of the fight against climate change. To do so, it sets out two flagship targets: 25% organic farming by 2030, and a reduction of pesticides by 50% in the same timeframe.

Some experts have pointed out the adverse effects of bringing organic food production up, since a) organic food also needs pesticides, and b) it emits more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional agriculture. The same goes for pesticides: the amount of pesticides used today is incomparable to the level of substances used in the 1960s. Existing chemical substances are declared safe by EU agencies, and countless regulators in the member states. However, those facts are stories in themselves. What is often forgotten in the debate is the import of “unsustainable” food.

On the one hand, Europe’s increasing food standards worsen the effect of illicit trade. Take the example of fraudulent organic food imports. In its 2019 report titled “The control system for organic products has improved, but some challenges remain“, the European Court of Auditors found structural problems with the control system of organic food trade, despite controls being implemented in 1991.

 In a section on the communication on non-compliance, the ECA writes:

“In Bulgaria, we found that some control bodies notified the competent authority about certain types of non-compliances only through their annual reporting. The competent authority did not notice this during its supervisory activities. In Czechia, we found that on average control bodies took 33 days in 2016 and 55 days in 2017 to report a non-compliance affecting the organic status of a product to the competent authority.” 

The report also notes that non-compliance communication delays are 38 calendar days on average in the European Union, while existing regulations stipulate that reporting should happen without delay. This means that non-compliant organic products, i.e. fraudulent organic trade, continue a month on average in the legal circulation of the European single market, before being flagged to consumers. 

If the European Union and its member states are serious about quality control and consumer information and protection, they need detection and reporting mechanisms that outperform the supply chain. The ECA also notes that member states were delayed in their reporting to the European Commission by an average of 4 months and that 50% of all analysed reports were missing information. China is the largest exporter of organic food to the European Union (based on weight, 2018 figures, from ECA report, see below). With significant difficulties concerning quality control of a large range of products originating from China, it should be clear that EU institutions must prioritise the authenticity of these food imports.

Further than that, legal imports will also eventually fall under the category of unsustainable under the rules and regulations of the European Union. This is already leading to a considerable problem with the adoption of the Mercosur-EU free trade agreement, and has in the past prevented agreements like TTIP. Europe will face a difficult choice: double down on the planned standards, and thereby risking to raise protectionist barriers, or even create food insecurity, or rather re-evaluate the necessity for certain environmental goals. 

Some voices want the first option, and prevent unsustainable imports through carbon border taxes, which are import tariffs. They forget to ask themselves, if production in Europe has slowed, will prevention imports really be the solution that manages to keep farming in Europe afloat?

The targets set in the Farm to Fork strategy are set to have dire impacts. According to an impact assessment conducted by USDA, the strategy would lead to a decline in agricultural production between 7-12%. Meanwhile, the EU’s decline in GDP would represent 76% of the decline in the worldwide GDP. Adding to that, the situation of food security and food commodity prices deteriorates significantly under a worldwide adoption scenario, as USDA researchers have found.

Europe should not get ahead of itself and worsen the standards of living for consumers and farmers alike. The Farm to Fork strategy either needs a serious rethink or a long-term moratorium.

Originally published here.

European Green Deal wird für Verbraucher teuer werden

Eine Folgenabschätzung der Europäischen Kommission legt die Kosten des “European Green Deal” dar – für Verbraucher wird es wohl teuer werden. Von Gastautor Fred Röder.

Der für den Green Deal zuständige Exekutiv-Vizepräsident der EU-Kommission Frans Timmermans bei einer Pressekonferenz, Quelle: Shutterstock

Der European Green Deal (EGD) ist einer der Eckpfeiler der Von der Leyen-Kommission in Brüssel. Es ist in den letzten Jahren klar geworden, dass es größeren Wählerdruck gibt um eine grünere Politik zu betreiben. Auf EU-Ebene hat dies zu hitzigen Debatten beim Thema Freihandel, Landwirtschaftsreformen und Emissionshandel geführt.

Der EGD ist ehrgeizig – er strebt an, bis 2050 null Nettoemissionen zu erreichen, wobei “Wirtschaftswachstum von der Ressourcennutzung abgekoppelt” werden soll. Dies soll durch Strukturreformen im Bereich der Landwirtschaft, die Entkarbonisierung des Energiesektors und die Einführung neuer Besteuerungssysteme zur Vermeidung nicht-nachhaltiger Importe nach Europa erreicht werden. Eine entscheidende Frage wird jedoch ausgeklammert:: zu welchen Kosten? Die zusätzlichen Ausgaben für die Europäische Union werden sich auf satte 260 Milliarden Euro pro Jahr (zwischen 2020 und 2030) belaufen. Es wird allerdings nicht nur der EU-Haushalt belastet, sondern direkten Kosten für Verbraucher werden ebenfalls steigen.

Ende September hat die Europäische Kommission eine Folgenabschätzungsstudie veröffentlicht. deren Ergebnisse sowohl von der Kommission als auch in der breiteren Medienlandschaft weitgehend ignoriert wurden. Das ist jedoch überraschend, denn in fast allen Modellen kommt es zu einem Rückgang des europäischen Bruttoinlandsprodukts. Die teilweise gravierenden Einbrüche werden vor allem durch Rückgänge bei Beschäftigung, Konsum und Exporten verursacht. Besonders verheerend wird der wirtschaftliche Schaden für die Mitgliedstaaten sein, die stark von Exportindustrien abhängig sind und für viele Menschen mit begrenzten Wiederbeschäftigungsmöglichkeiten in diesen Ländern. Deshalb wird insbesondere Deutschland die Folgen dieser Politik zu spüren bekommen Als Exportnation wird es Deutschland härter treffen als weniger von Industrie abhängige Länder..

Bereits bestehenden soziale Ungleichheiten werden durch steigenden Energiepreise für Verbraucher noch extremer werden. Wie die Energiewende in Deutschland bereits zeigte, hat ein überstürzter Umstieg  erneuerbaren Energiequellen, der über Subventionsprogramme und nicht Verbrauchernachfrage erfolgte, die Energiepreise für die Verbraucher stark erhöht. In der Folgenabschätzung der Kommission wird dies anerkannt, allerdings in einer Formulierung die von wenig Mitgefühl für die betroffenen Bürger zeugt: “Ein Nachteil aus sozialer Sicht sind die höheren Energiepreise für die Verbraucher”. Es als “Nachteil” zu bezeichnen, wird den immensen Kosten für einkommensschwache Verbraucher nicht gerecht.

In der Debatte um den European Green Deal wird häufig davon gesprochen, dass umweltpolitische Veränderungen die Schaffung von Arbeitsplätzen und Wohlstand ermöglichen. EGD-Superkommissar Frans Timmermans spricht gerne von “grünen Arbeitsplätzen” und bezieht sich dabei auf die Möglichkeiten, die durch die Pläne der Kommission geschaffen werden. Anstatt dass ihn die COVID-19-Krise einen sanften Ton anschlagen lässt, meint Timmermans, dass “unsere Antwort auf die Covid-19-Krise es uns ermöglicht, Arbeitsplätze nicht für Jahre, sondern für Jahrzehnte zu retten und neue Arbeitsplätze zu schaffen. Wir werden vielleicht nie wieder so viel ausgeben können, um unsere Wirtschaft wieder anzukurbeln – und ich hoffe, dass wir das nie wieder tun müssen”. Wird er es sich jetzt noch einmal überlegen, nachdem die Folgenabschätzung seiner eigenen Kommission drei Wochen nach seiner Rede ergeben hat, dass die Kosten für diese Strategie erheblich sind und insbesondere die unteren Einkommensschichten treffen werden?

Angesichts der angespannten Lage, in der die Wirtschaft und dadurch auch die Bürger besonders leiden, sollten die Diskussion um die Energiewende, wie die des EGD, alle relevanten Aspekte beinhalten – auch die negativen Auswirkungen auf die Konsumenten. Natürlich kann man meinen, dass die Kosten des EU-Plans im Angesicht der klimapolitischen Ziele gerechtfertigt sind, doch man sollte dabei nicht vertuschen, dass Verbraucher, Arbeiter, und kleine Unternehmer besonders unter diesen Entscheidungen leiden werden. Eine offene Diskussion im Sinner der Prinzipien Transparenz und verantwortlicher Regierungsführung ist notwendig, bevor Millionen von Menschen die Rechnung für diese Energiepolitik vorgelegt bekommen.

Originally published here.

Fight mycotoxin contamination with modern technology

Every consumer will know this problem: you come home from a long trip but the fruits, vegetables, and yoghurt are still in the fridge. “Expiry dates are just an industry trick to sell more food” is a thought that leads some to disregard the mould that has formed on all of these items over time, or even to consider that the food is therefore healthy.

According to a study by the University of Copenhagen, many consumers believe that mold is a sign of “naturalness”. “What is objectively referred to as dirty is less frightening to us than apples which never rot. Similarly, having dirt under one’s nails has become a sign of health”, says Kia Ditlevsen, associate professor of UCPH’s department of food and resource economics.

However, the reality is very different. Mould carries mycotoxins, which are dangerous to human health, and in some cases, can be deadly. These toxic metabolites are divided into subcategories, namely aflatoxins, ochratoxin A (OTA), fumonisins (FUM), zearalenone (ZEN), and deoxynivalenol (DON – also known as vomitoxin), which can all be ingested through eating contaminated food, including dairy products (as infected animals can carry it into milk, eggs, or meat). 

In a home fridge, mould can develop through bad storage — the electricity went off for long and the cooling chain was interrupted, or direct sun exposure for a long period of time — or simple expiry of the product. 

Most disconcertingly, up to 28% of all liver cancers worldwide can be attributed to aflatoxins, and its immunosuppressant features leave humans weakened against other diseases. The features have been known to modern science since the turn of the century. 

In Africa, this is a deadly epidemic. Aflatoxin exposure is more deadly than exposure to malaria or tuberculosis, with 40% of all liver cancers in Africa being related to it. Mycotoxin contamination can occur through inadequate food storage, but more importantly, it occurs in the absence of the correct crop protection measures, including chemicals.

In modern agriculture, we prevent most of the exposure to mycotoxins by using fungicides. However, chemical crop protection products have been seen with increasingly critical eyes. All too often, those calling for bans of XYZ chemical pretend that farmers ought just use “an alternative”, but all too regularly these alternatives do not exist, or have, as with the example of genetic engineering, been outlawed already.

Gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 can help solve farm safety concerns such as the ones raised by fungi. Fungal pathogens, such as Fusarium proliferatum, which attacks diverse crops, including wheat, maize, rice, asparagus, date palm, garlic, onion, can be studied and better understood using this technology. In the case of Fusarium oxysporum, which befalls both plants and animals, gene-editing can disrupt the genes of interests. A different method of genetic engineering, known as gene-silencing (arrived to through a method known as RNA interference), can create aflatoxin-free transgenic maize. Particularly for developing nations, this would mark a breakthrough improvement of consumer health and food security.

However, if the European Union keeps its current legislation on genetic engineering, and goes even further by exporting these rules and regulations to development aid partners in Africa, then these innovations will not be of use to consumers domestic and abroad. In order to tap into the potential of the gene-revolution, we need to change outdated legislation and Europe and usher in a new century of biotechnology.

We owe it to ourselves.

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