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Food Policy

Congress Wants to Copy Some of the EU’s Worst Food Rules. That’s a Bad Idea

There is simply no argument in favor of copying EU food regulations.

Legislation looming in the US Congress could emulate European food standards by copying European agricultural regulation. PACTA (Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act), legislation sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders would outlaw any pesticide that is illegal in either European Union member states, the European Union itself, or Canada.

To many Americans, Europe represents the epitome of culinary civilization, and it’s true that Italian standards for pasta, French standard for bread, and Spanish standards for seafood often far outrank what the average restaurant will serve in the United States. But with that said, we shouldn’t confuse the presence of prime cooking schools in France with a better food market. Europe’s increasing hostility towards crop protection in the form of pesticides is not going to do itself any favors.

A cornerstone of the EU’s continuous ambitions to revamp its food regulation is the “Farm to Fork Strategy,” known as F2F. This strategy, which is part of the “European Green Deal,” is a roadmap for a set of package bills set to hit the EU’s legislature in the coming years. Two of its cornerstone proposals are a reduction of pesticides by 50 percent by 2030, and increasing organic food production to 25 percent by 2030 (it is currently at about 8 percent).

The European Commission has yet to release an impact assessment on what the Farm to Fork strategy would mean for farmers and consumers. Despite repeated calls from EU parliamentarians, it has been unable to provide hard numbers backing up the political argument that these environmental reforms would also be good economically. Thankfully, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) did its own study. In fact, when the USDA made an impact assessment, it found that, if implemented, F2F would result in a 12 percent reduction in agricultural production in Europe and increase the prices of consumer goods by 17 percent in the EU, by 5 percent in the US, and by 9 percent worldwide.

In addition, the USDA also found that in the adoption scenario, trade flows would be reduced, and that Europe’s GDP would decline significantly as result of the increase in food commodity prices (Europe’s GDP decline would represent 76 percent of the overall global GDP decline as a result of F2F).

Developing nations would also be hard hit. Because as a result of these stringent food rules, the EU would implement protectionist measures.

“By 2030, the number of food-insecure people in the case of EU-only adoption would increase by an additional 22 million more than projected without the EC’s proposed Strategies,” USDA concluded.

You could ask why it all matters, since Europeans do pay less for food that apparently is also cooked better. It is true that grocery shopping in Germany can be quite eye-opening to Americans—a pound of wild-caught smoked salmon costs anywhere between $10 and $20 in America (or more), while in Germany those prices vary between $2 and $10. Most of that is because the United States does not shower its farmers and fishers with the same lavish farm subsidies that Europe does. While the US also subsidies farmers, research shows that Europe “out-subsidises” the States by a long shot. So while supermarket prices are lower for consumers, it’s the tax returns of Europeans that tell the real story. In countries such as Belgium, effective income tax rates (with social security) are upwards of 50 percent. In fact, single Belgian workers are the highest taxed in the entire OECD, and they are closely followed by those in Germany and France, both nearing the 50 percent mark. And this doesn’t even go into detail of how the European Union uses its farm subsidies to undercut producers in developing markets and, as the New York Times put it, how oligarchs milk these millions of farm subsidies for their own benefit.

Reducing pesticides by political decree rather than through innovative technology is a non-scientific approach. If the argument of the European Union were that with modern farm equipment, such as smart-sprays, the amount of pesticides could be reduced because farmers are able to make their use more efficient, then that would be a forward-thinking approach. Instead, the 50 percent reduction target looks good on a poster, but has little to do with evidence-based policy making. After all: if the existing 100 percent are bad for human health, why only restrict 50 percent, and not the entirety of all these substances?

Incidentally that is what the EU did on a large scale with neonicotinoids, by banning certain ones for farming use. Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are insecticides that are essential for farmers not to lose a significant amount of their crops each season. In December last year, the French parliament voted for a three year suspension of the ban on neonics, because sugar beet farmers were risking going completely out of business over crop losses. The bans exist in Europe because neonics have been accused of harming pollinators.

The “Bee-pocalypse” in the early 2000s was blamed first on GMOs, then subsequently on neonics when the GMO argument was quickly found to be false. But neonics also aren’t at fault. Bee colony reductions and disappearances occur naturally and periodically throughout history. In fact, there were sporadic bee colony declines all throughout (recorded) history, namely the 19th and 20th century, before neonics were first introduced in 1985. In fact, not only are bees not affected by neonics, they aren’t even declining.

As the Washington Post reported in two separate articles in 2015—”Call Off the Bee-pocalypse: U.S. Honeybee Colonies Hit a 20-Year High” and “Believe It of Not, the Bees Are Doing Just Fine,” the hysteria of global bee declines are simply inaccurate. You can even do this for yourself: visit the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) website, select “beehives” in the visualised data section, and click on any country or region you like. Most countries and regions have a steady upwards trend in the prevalence of bees. In the United States, the bee population is actually set to double in the coming years compared to the 1960s level.

So why lie about it? Why is it such a prevalent narrative that GMOs (or any given pesticide of the day) kill the bees? The argument is politically convenient, but not scientifically sound. In Europe, the enemies of modern agriculture have a view of the world that does not match the society of comfort and availability. The EU’s Green Deal Commissioner Frans Timmermans bemoaned in May last year (mind you this is at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown) that “we’ve gotten used to food being too cheap.”

He didn’t mean that agriculture subsidies were out of proportion, but rather that being able to buy meat or fish on any given day and for low prices were problematic in nature. For a man paid $30,000 a month for his Commission job, while Romanian consumers paid upwards of 20 percent of their income on food, that’s the definition of tone-deaf.

In the United States, availability and competition are key. Also, while Europe’s dreams of a world where nature politely sends no insects to eat our crops, no mold to befall food stocks, and where no other natural conditions could endanger food security, the United States has always enabled scientific innovation. Case in point, the US is far ahead on developing genetic engineering, while Europe lags behind.

There is simply no argument in favor of copying EU food regulations.

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.

Putting a price on the European Green Deal

A Commission impact assessment lays out what happens if the EGD is implemented, and it does not look good, writes the Consumer Choice Center’s Bill Wirtz.

The European Green Deal (EGD) is one of the cornerstones of the Von der Leyen Commission. It is hardly controversial to say that European policymakers have responded to public pressure with more environmentally friendly policies, which have, in turn, created heated debates over many other EU policies, ranging from CAP reform to the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement or the reform of the Emissions Trading System.

The EGD is ambitious – it seeks out to reach zero net emissions by 2050, with “economic growth decoupled from resource use“. It intends to do so through structural reform in the field of agriculture, decarbonising the energy sector, and laying out new taxation schemes to avoid unsustainable imports into Europe. However, the appropriate question is: at what cost? The additional expenditure for the European Union per year (between 2020 and 2030) will be a whopping €260bn. But it does not stop there.

At the end of September, the European Commission released an impact assessment that answers this question. This document has largely remained uncommented by Commission officials, or in the broader media landscape, which is surprising because it contains crucial data points. For once, in most models laid out in the assessment, GDP is expected to shrink. This is in close relationship with declines in employment, consumption, and exports. The latter will be particularly devastating for countries that heavily rely on export industries, which employ people with limited re-employment opportunities. As service industries – such as the financial sector – will be less affected, this will widen the opportunity gap in the labour market.

“We should be transparent about the effects of the European Green Deal, especially if it implies a worsened situation for consumers”

Another weight on existing inequalities will be rising energy prices for consumers. As the German energy shift (Energiewende) has shown already, a quick change to renewable energy sources, arrived through subsidisation programmes, has sharply increased consumer energy prices. The Commission’s impact assessment recognises that, though in a way that puts into question their consideration of the importance of social sustainability: “A drawback from a social perspective are the higher energy prices for consumers.” Calling it a “drawback” hardly does the immense cost for low-income consumers any justice.

A common narrative in the debate surrounding the EGD is that environmental policy shifts enable job and wealth creation. EGD Commissioner Frans Timmermans likes to talk about “green jobs”, referring to the opportunities created by the Commission’s plans. Instead of the COVID-19 crisis giving him pause, Timmermans says that “our response to the COVID-19 crisis allows us to save jobs not for years but for decades to come, and create new jobs. We may never again spend as much to reboot our economy – and I sure I hope we will never again have to.” Will he reconsider now that the impact assessment of his own Commission revealed three weeks after his speech that the cost for this strategy is significant? You would be courageous to hold your breath.

Given the current situation surrounding COVID-19, as GDP contraction expectations approach those of the 2008 financial crisis, we cannot adopt these kinds of policies without proper consideration. Some will claim that the price is that the noble goal justifies the means, but in any way, we should be transparent about the effects of the European Green Deal, especially if it implies a worsened situation for consumers. We owe it to the principles of transparency and accountable governance.

Originally published here.

Helyettesíthető-e minden helyi termékkel?

A civil szervezet szerint az Európai Parlament Kereskedelmi és Fejlesztési Bizottságának véleménye tudománytalan mezőgazdasági elméleteket vezet be.

A Consumer Choice Center (CCC, Fogyasztói Választás Központja) fogyasztóvédő szervezet közleménye bemutatja, hogy az Európai Parlament Nemzetközi Kereskedelmi és Fejlesztési Bizottságának nemrégiben közzétett véleményébe a parlamenti képviselők beillesztették a következő 21. bekezdést (teljes másolatban):”Hangsúlyozza azt a tényt, hogy a COVID-19 által kiváltott zavarok előtérbe helyezték a globális élelmiszerrendszer sebezhetőségét; rámutat továbbá, hogy a mezőgazdasági piacok liberalizálása tovább erősíti az exportorientált mezőgazdaság ipari modelljét, amely jelentősen hozzájárul az éghajlatváltozáshoz, elősegíti az élőhelyek elvesztését és megteremti a vírusok kialakulásának és terjedésének feltételeit; úgy véli, hogy a rövid ellátási láncok és más helyi kezdeményezések ezzel szemben nagy lehetőségeket rejtenek az élelmiszer-rendszer jelenlegi hiányosságainak kezelésére azáltal, hogy javítják a friss élelmiszerekhez való hozzáférést , biztosítja, hogy a gazdálkodók nagyobb értéket szerezzenek, és csökkenti a nemzetközi piacok zavarait és sérülékenységét; ezért sürgeti a Bizottságot, hogy dolgozzon ki stratégiát a kereskedelemorientált agrárpolitikától a helyi és regionális piacok felé való fokozatos eltolódás érdekében; “

„A legmegdöbbentőbb irónia az, hogy a Nemzetközi Kereskedelmi Bizottság azt mondja nekünk, hogy csökkentenünk kell a nemzetközi kereskedelmet és helyi termékeket kell vásárolnunk. Egyrészt az Európai Unió az Egyesült Államok után protekcionizmust követ, másrészt azt mondják nekünk, hogy ha az egységes piacról vásárolunk zöldséget, az sérülékennyé tesz a világjárványokra. Milyen felelőtlen dolog ezt írni!” – mondja Wirtz.

„Egyáltalán nincs bizonyíték arra, hogy a COVID-19 valamilyen módon kapcsolódik a „mezőgazdasági piacok liberalizációjához”. Valójában az az ország, amelyből az új koronavírus származott, nevezetesen Kína, kollektivista gazdálkodást folytat, és nincs jelentős élelmiszerkereskedelme. Kicsinyes összeesküvés-elméletekkel foglalkozni nem méltó az Európai Parlamenthez. Ezt mondják, aztán szerencsére észreveszem, hogy az EPP és az ID képviselői, mint például Gianna Gancia (Olaszország) és Anna Michelle Asimakopoulou (EPP) a vélemény ellen szavaztak.””A helyi termék vásárlása nem minden esetben oldható meg. Én luxemburgi állampolgár vagyok, és szeretek a helyi gazdáktól vásárolni. De ettől még a banántermesztés Luxemburgban meglehetősen eredménytelen és erőforrás-pazarló lenne.

Annak ellenére, hogy: az európai kereskedelem kétségtelenül az európaiak megértésének, versenyképességének és a mezőgazdasági ágazat fejlesztésének legfontosabb tényezője. Nem szabad azonban protekcionizmushoz fordulnunk, sem a nemzeti felsőbbrendűség nevében, sem az összeesküvés-elméletek mentségében “- zárja be Wirtz .


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Onerous labeling laws harm consumers who want innovative meat alternatives

CONTACT:
Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center
yael@consumerchoicecenter.org

Washington, D.C. – Earlier this month, Mississippi lawmakers passed onerous labeling laws that will prohibit meat-alternative products, such as veggie burgers and sausages, from using the word “meat” in their marketing and branding. This is part of a larger trend by politicians and industries to limit what consumers can know about the products they consume.

Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said “For years, consumers have demanded better tasting and more innovative meat alternatives, and entrepreneurs have delivered. The effort to stymie these innovations by forbidding the use of the word meat harms consumers who want more choice.

“By censoring what information and branding companies are able to use, consumers are left to guess what products they’re consuming, and what taste they’re due to expect.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to preemptively stop the innovative market of meat alternatives that environmentally conscious consumers want and demand. Brands matter, and labeling matters as well. Broader categories and more information are always better for consumers, and these laws to restrict this end up harming consumers,” said Ossowski. “That’s why the Consumer Choice Center launched the Brands Matter! initiative.

“Legislation like this is predicated on the idea that consumers are too dumb to understand the differences between meat and meat alternatives. Using legislation to bicker over nomenclature is ridiculous, and mirrors when the dairy industry lobbied against almond and soy beverages.

“Let’s let consumers choose,” concluded Ossowski.

*** Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues.  Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

UK supermarket meals could face calorie limits to combat obesity

Bill Wirtz, policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center, said: “The intentions of PHE are understandable, but rectifying the bad nutritional habits and lack of exercise of some with outright bans for others is just blatantly unfair.” He added: “Nobody is denying that we could all lose weight by only living on water and crispbread, […]

USDA Moves to End Rent-Seeking in Poultry Industry

AMERICAN GREATNESS: The U.S. Department of Agriculture in December ruffled a few feathers by withdrawing a regulation published on the final full day of the Obama Administration that would have created new requirements for producers of “organic” eggs and poultry.

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