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Science

COP26: Lots of costly promise but no feasible solutions

This week, leaders from across the world are gathering in Glasgow to attend the Conference of the Parties, 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy. This is the biggest meeting on climate after Paris back in 2015, which resulted in participating countries signing an agreement aiming to keep global warming at below 2 degrees celsius. In Glasgow, countries will present their action plans for carbon reduction for 2030 and some developing countries will secure large sums of money to help them move away from fossil fuels. Hopes are big, promises even bigger, but are their methods of fighting climate change the right way to approach the problem?

The goal itself is commendable and important to achieve, but we should not sacrifice consumer choice and freedom to it. Every policy should be examined through the lens of consumer choice, and it should be at the centre of every climate strategy. 

Unfortunately, governments have opted for the combination of restrictions, taxes and bans to tackle climate change. This is quite a costly strategy, and consumers will have to carry the burden of it. For example, to cut carbon emissions, the EU is planning to ban motor vehicle sales from 2030. Motor vehicle drivers are already some of the most heavily taxed consumers. Fuel, ownership, registration and CO2 based taxes are just a few examples of what motorist vehicle drivers have to deal with and now the EU is taking on an even more radical approach. 

Arguably, one of the most disputed parts of the EU’s Green plan is the creation of a sustainable food system, with little to no reliance on pesticides and incentivising organic farming. Green activists demonise pesticides branding them as” dangerous”. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), without them, the farmers would lose 30 to 40 percent of their crops. Organic farming has low yields, whereas to feed the ever-growing population we need to increase our food production. However, in the case of organic farming, we would have to put more land for agricultural production, which can only be achieved through deforestation which naturally hurts the planet, and which is also what COP26 attendees commit to end. These climate strategies are inconsistent and chase their own tail.

Electricity and heat production account for around 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Policymakers are pushing for alternative renewable energy sources, like solar and wind powers, but continue to dismiss the many advantages of nuclear energy. Nuclear power has been pushed to the background because of its bad reputation and accidents such as the Chernobyl nuclear explosion (which was the result of poor management and not nuclear per se). Multiple studies have shown that risks associated with nuclear plants are low and keep declining.

Strategies that policymakers have elaborated entail many false assumptions. Instead of practicing losing combinations of restrictions, bans and taxes, embracing innovation in the above-mentioned sectors would be the right thing to do. Giving innovative technologies a chance is the only way to combat climate change and not leave consumers on the losing end.

In the next blog posts, we will dive into the agricultural, mobility and energy sectors and lay out the Consumer Choice Center’s recommendations on how innovation should drive us forward as we look for the best solution to the climate change dilemma.

La Prohibición de la Carne Es lo que Ocurre cuando el Alarmismo Climático se Impone

En febrero del 2020, 243 personas de la London School of Economics aprobaron una moción del sindicato de estudiantes para introducir la prohibición de la carne de vaca para todos sus 11.000 estudiantes, convirtiéndose en la tercera universidad del país en hacerlo. Y fue el ejemplo perfecto de cómo el alarmismo descarado sobre el cambio climático causa enormes problemas a todo el mundo. Sentir que se está poniendo un granito de arena para ayudar al mundo a resolver sus problemas más acuciantes se ha convertido, al parecer, en algo más importante que respetar la libertad fundamental de elegir.

Sin embargo, la única manera de hacer frente al cambio climático es aceptar esto último. Los estudiantes son los consumidores del mañana, y se merecen la misma elección de consumo.

Hay algo pretencioso en que una minoría intente imponer sus puntos de vista a todos los demás mediante prohibiciones, especialmente cuando se trata de cuestiones de mercado. En estos casos, siempre deberíamos preguntarnos cómo es que un grupo de personas que probablemente nunca hemos conocido puede saber lo que es correcto para mí.

Esta lógica penetra en un amplio espectro de regulaciones de estilo de vida, desde fumar tabaco y cannabis hasta el azúcar. En el contexto del cambio climático, socava la responsabilidad individual a un nivel muy básico al implicar que nosotros, como individuos, no nos preocupamos lo suficiente por el medio ambiente como para ayudar a reducir las emisiones de CO2.

En realidad, para bien o para mal, es difícil no hacerlo. Gracias a Greta Thunberg, a las extensas campañas mediáticas y a los acuerdos ecológicos que llegan de todas partes, el cambio climático se ha convertido en un tema de gran preocupación en todo el mundo, especialmente en Europa y Estados Unidos que, a diferencia de China, no son los mayores contaminantes mundiales. Todos estamos de acuerdo en que debemos intentar reducir las emisiones de carbono. Sólo diferimos en la forma de hacerlo.

La naturaleza humana tiene tendencia a ser impaciente. Se ha hecho popular pensar que si aprobamos una prohibición, el problema desaparecerá de la noche a la mañana. Es decir, se supone que si prohibimos la carne de vaca en el campus, todos los estudiantes dejarán pronto de comer carne y tomarán conciencia del clima. Este planteamiento puede tener cierto éxito a corto plazo a costa de la elección del consumidor, pero a largo plazo no es sostenible ni ayuda a salvar el planeta.

En cambio, adoptar soluciones innovadoras es un camino mucho más gratificante. El desarrollo de sustitutos de la carne es un ejemplo de ello.

En las últimas décadas hemos asistido a increíbles avances en el ámbito de la agricultura, que han contribuido a hacer más sostenibles la agricultura y el consumo. El potencial de la ingeniería genética se descarta a menudo debido a las afirmaciones de seguridad alimentaria no probadas y a los riesgos asociados a la alteración de la agricultura.

Sin embargo, hay muchas pruebas científicas que desmienten la creencia de que los alimentos editados genéticamente son menos seguros que los cultivados de forma convencional. Eliminar todos los productos cárnicos ahora significa rendirse ante los desafíos que tenemos por delante.

También es crucial educar a los estudiantes sobre los sustitutos de la carne y su propensión a ayudar a mitigar el cambio climático. La retórica popular no científica junto con las restricciones de mercado existentes (actualmente, los productos que contienen OGM están etiquetados como tales) pretenden alejarnos de los productos más innovadores.

El marketing y la promoción son fundamentales para dispersar la información sobre los productos, y tanto los productos con OGM como los que no lo son deben ser tratados por igual. Concienciar a los estudiantes sobre los beneficios de la modificación genética garantizaría que, como consumidores, hicieran elecciones alimentarias basadas en la ciencia.

Prohibir la carne de vaca en el campus de una institución educativa respetable es un paso atrás. El Reino Unido puede hacerlo mucho mejor. Debemos acoger la innovación y ofrecer a los consumidores la posibilidad de alejarse de los alimentos convencionales, no prohibiéndolos, sino fomentando el desarrollo de sustitutos de la carne.

Hacer de niñera a los estudiantes es fácil; animarles a convertirse en consumidores responsables y conscientes de la importancia de su libertad de elección es más difícil, pero es la clave.

Originally published here

Greta Thunberg didn’t win the German elections

The Greens did well, yes, but so did a party of forward-thinking classical liberals

Greta Thunberg is back in business. Previously slowed down by European pandemic restrictions, the Fridays For Future movement has now hit the streets, starting in Berlin. ‘We must not give up, there is no going back now,’ Thunberg told thousands of local protesters. The appeals and influence of her movement have translated, at least somewhat, into a stronger climate-focused youth vote in last month’s German elections. The Green party has made significant advances in Parliament, becoming one of the kingmakers in upcoming coalition talks.

Read the full article here

The UN-led gambit to curb innovation in the developing world is only blocking prosperity

Why the risk-avoiding ‘Stockholm Convention’ endorses harmful bans and stunts progress where it is needed most.

Among developed nations, one of the most significant drivers of economic growth and prosperity has been the ability of our innovators, scientists, and entrepreneurs to deliver great products to the consumers who need them.

We need only think of the advances in washing machine technology, which has freed up hours of domestic labor, plastics and silicones, which have allowed products to be produced cheaply and last longer, and more abundant use of computer chips in our appliances, which has enabled a “smart” revolution in consumer products that are saving us time and effort at home, which fueling the revolutions in artificial intelligence and medical technology.

While these innovations are beginning to also reach developing nations, however, there are existing international treaties and regulatory bodies that are making it more difficult and costly for these products to be sold or even accessed. This significantly affects the life of a consumer and their ability to provide for their families.

One such United Nations treaty is a little-known global pact known as the Stockholm Convention, which aims to regulate long-lasting or “persistent” chemical substances, and has become the unofficial world regulator for industrial and consumer products and their makeup.

Many of the substances and compounds first targeted by the convention were pesticides, industrial chemicals, and by-products that had known harmful effects to humans or to the environment. These included aldrin, chlordane, and most controversially, the malaria-killing insecticide known as DDT.

The main idea behind these restrictions, and the UN convention itself, is that these compounds take forever to break down in the environment, and eventually make their way into our bodies through food or water contamination, and could pose an eventual danger to organisms.

Unfortunately, since the convention was launched in 2001, it has gone from banning and restricting known dangerous substances to now applying cautious labels or entire injunctions on chemicals used in ordinary life and with no known or measured risk factor in humans or animal species.

Moreover, with a large international budget and limited oversight, researchers have noted how the convention’s financial implementation has often pushed developing countries to adopt restrictions or bans for the guarantee of funding alone, something that has been observed with UN-related treaties on vaping products, and may have some complications for global trade.

Now in its 20th year, the convention has repeatedly relied on the European Union’s “precautionary principle” approach when it comes to determining risk, meaning that any general hazard, no matter the risk factor, must be abandoned out of an abundance of caution. This neglects the normal scientific framework of balancing risk and exposure.

The example of the herbicide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane — known as DDT — presents one of the most glaring cases. Though it has been banned in many developed nations and blocs such as the United States and the European Union, it is still used in many developing nations to wipe out insects carrying malaria and other diseases. In these nations, including South Africa and India, the possible harm is “vastly outweighed” by its ability to save the lives of children.

The current mechanism, therefore, considers the wishes of developed nations that do not have to deal with tropical diseases like malaria and forces this standard on those that do. The scientific analysis found in the global meetings of the Stockholm Convention does not take this factor, and a host of others, into account.

With a precautionary principle like this in place, including a process led more by politics than science, one can easily see how economic growth can be thwarted in nations that do yet have consumer access to products we use on a daily basis in developed countries.

Whether it is pesticides, household chemicals, or plastics, it is clear that a global regulatory body to regulate these substances is a desired force for good. However, if an international organization enforces bad policies on middle and low-income countries, then that is a calculation that harms the potential progress and innovation in the developing world.

Originally published here

The problem with the EPA’s pesticide politics

If you’re a regular consumer of memes, then you’ve likely heard of the widely used herbicide atrazine. Conspiracy theory broadcaster Alex Jones mentioned the chemical in a now-viral segment claiming it “turns the frog gay.” Jones had based his claims on research by a Berkeley biology professor named Tyrone Hayes. In 2002, Hayes published a study that claimed to find “hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses.”

Though it was dressed up as science and eventually became a meme, those claims were not peer-reviewed, and Hayes never provided data to back up his conclusions. Oddly enough, none of the other 7,000-plus scientific studies that established the safety of atrazine ever came to the same conclusion.

However, this herbicide has opponents beyond the realm of conspiracy theorists, not because of its inherent characteristics, but because environmental activists are increasingly attempting to ban all pesticides. Unlike the European Union, the U.S. has maintained a reasonable standard on studied substances allowed for use in modern agriculture because the U.S does not pursue the goal of boosting an “organic food only” type of policy . Unfortunately, that appears to be changing.

When the Environmental Protection Agency reauthorized atrazine in 2019, it did so according to a mandate by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act to consider both risks and benefits arising from the registration. The agency reconsidered the so-called concentration equivalent level of concern, a conservative regulatory threshold meant to protect aquatic ecosystems from damage by the herbicide. The EPA practically reauthorized atrazine for use by farmers after a 2016 EPA evaluation proposed lowering the threshold from 10 parts per billion to 3.4 parts per billion. At the 3.4 ppb threshold, atrazine cannot be used practically, making the CELOC so restrictive that the substance would not have been allowed on the domestic market.

To farmers, atrazine and other herbicides such as glyphosate, glufosinate, and 2,4-D play a vital role in killing weeds that would otherwise have to be handled through increased tillage. This “conservation tillage,” as it’s called, reduces soil erosion and runoff. Increased soil tillage would, overall, be worse for the environment, as ​​tillage also reduces crop residue, which helps cushion the force of raindrops.

The fight over atrazine has the new EPA embroiled in a legal battle. Following lawsuits by environmental organizations against the reauthorization of atrazine, the EPA is now asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to instruct itself to reconsider the previous assessment. With this move, the EPA moves away from the scientific approach to risk and benefit assessment by circumventing the recurring reevaluation periods. In picking a politically convenient court to enable a “restart” of the process, the EPA follows politics, not scientific rigor.

This is not the first time that the EPA has done this. In a similarly disturbing move, the agency in May used a lawsuit by environmental organizations against the registration of glyphosate to ask a 9th Circuit Court to tell the EPA to reconsider certain past decisions concerning the ecological impact of the widely used herbicide. Using the court system to revisit settled regulatory decisions runs the risk of politicizing a process, in this case the regular registration review of herbicides and pesticides, that is constructed and designed to be apolitical and to function the same way regardless of who is in the White House.

If the goal of the federal government is to follow a European-style road map to increase organic farming despite the fact that only 4% of American consumers actually demand these products, then that’s a political conversation that should be open and transparent.

However, increasingly depriving conventional farmers of the essential tools they need to protect against natural threats to their crops is a backdoor means of hurting farmers and consumers alike while not contributing to a fruitful discussion.

Opening the floodgates of administrative flip-flopping and an avalanche of lawsuits is to nobody’s benefit but a few wealthy law firms. Picture the scene of organic farming being subject to the same kind of scrutiny. Would it be productive for a subsequent administration and NGOs friendly to its causes to attack copper sulfate, a pesticide commonly used in organic farming, relentlessly?

Diversity in farming allows farming entrepreneurs to choose the production methods they feel the most comfortable with while allowing consumers to choose the foodstuffs they like the most. In this equation, the role of environmental protection agencies is to assess science in an unbiased way, removed from the political priorities of the day. At least at present, that’s a goal the EPA should embrace rather than push aside.

Originally published here

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

Climate alarmism undermines fight against climate change and alienates young people

That’s the headline accompanying the latest report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC), an arm of the UN, assuring us that climate change catastrophe is just around the corner, and that if we don’t all abandon our beef burgers and put on our peace sandals straight away, the Earth will be engulfed in a ball of fire by the end of next week. 

On the face of it, this is a very worrying thing for a UN body to say and we should all pay a great deal of attention to it.

In reality, no one does. It will dominate the news cycle for a day or two and then we will all move onto something else.

Read the full article here

Scientific cherry-picking

Power to the young Greens.

“We Greens in the Bundestag stand for a rural-ecological agriculture”, it says on the website of the Green parliamentary group. They advocate GM-free food, low-pesticide agriculture, more organic farming and regional marketing. The Greens take “stand for” seriously, as the party now demands nothing less than a complete ban on industrial agriculture. After years in which the organic shop meant a niche for consumers who wanted to shop differently, organic products should now become compulsory.

This is also making waves abroad. The Daily Telegraph writes that the image of the Greens as a “prohibition party” is returning. Why this is making waves is clear. The Greens are experiencing a constant influx of voters in Germany, and so they and their policies are to be taken as seriously as during their last participation in the federal government.

The Greens also want to ban the gene-editing, which is known through techniques such as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). With these systems, researchers can permanently alter genes in living cells and organisms and in future correct mutations at exact locations in the human genome and thus treat genetic causes of disease. The same technology can also be used in agriculture. The Greens see “genome editing” as the same as the question of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are also banned.

Here, the Green position is no longer in line with that of its own youth. Already last year, the Green youth in Lower Saxony demanded “a new start for the debate on green genetic engineering without dogmas and a political argumentation on a scientific basis”.

This year, too, there was new criticism. In the party resolution of the Green Youth Saxony-Anhalt it says at the end of March:

“Today it is of fundamental importance to rethink this historical position [a complete ban on GMOs] in order to tackle the coming global challenges.”

The scientific remoteness of the Greens is surprising, since the environmentalists usually argue very scientifically about climate change. Even if the resulting policy proposals are radical and daring, they rigorously cite scientific studies as the basis for their demands. In agriculture, on the other hand, the party behaves dogmatically.

Those who defend GMOs and pesticides in science and politics must have been bought by large international corporations. Sceptics of climate change work the same way here: scientists who prove climate change must have been bought by some influential circles.

The scientific method and fact-based politics fall short of attention.

Where is all this going? Genome editing is important for further scientific progress, but recent decisions by the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg and the resistance of various environmental activists in Germany quickly put an end to its potential.

For farmers, this means less progress and thus the continued use of equally unpopular pesticides, or copper as a fungicide in organic farming. Meanwhile, research abroad is being accelerated. A further compartmentalisation in trade policy would then again be necessary in order to “protect” the paralysed farmers in Europe from foreign products.

Consumers would lack the choice after such bans. Organic or non-organic remains a major public debate. However, it should not be solved by abolishing conventional agriculture, but by education and innovation.

The Young Greens in Saxony-Anhalt write in one of their demands:

“We reject in principle the stirring up of irrational fears to reach a political goal, this applies also to genetic engineering.”

That’s a good start.

Originally published here.

Farm-to-Fork plan suggests Europe wants sustainable farming. So why do EU politicians ignore the ‘green’ benefits of GM crops?

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.

An EU Carbon Tariff Is Policy Mischief

A carbon adjustment would be bad news for consumers…

In November of 2020, the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Development accepted a paper on the concept of carbon border adjustments, otherwise known as carbon tariffs. It is now widely understood that the EU is seriously considering implementing a new regime of carbon tariffs as part of its overall climate strategy. 

Simply put, carbon tariffs would be taxes on goods from countries that do not meet the EU’s  level of environmental protection. Their main purpose is to avoid “carbon leakage,” in which companies move to countries that don’t impose costs on carbon.

The problem with this, first and foremost, is that tariffs are taxes paid for by domestic consumers, which means the end result is European consumers footing the bill via higher prices on international goods. At a time when all of Europe is eyeing the end of the pandemic, and the worrisome economic recovery that will follow, a price inflating carbon adjustment would be troublesome to say the least.

Supporters of this policy will argue that a border adjustment will have the positives of encouraging high emission exporters to clean up their act, and benefit European industry in the process. The thought process is that if foreign goods become more expensive, EU goods will become comparatively cheaper.

On getting high emission countries to meet European climate standards, it is naive to assume that the developing world can meet such benchmarks. As many in the development policy arena have rightly pointed out, the developed world propelled itself to its current status by first focusing on growth, which is what now allows Europe the luxury of enacting policies to protect the environment. Because of that, I’m hard pressed to see the developing world have the capacity, in the short-medium term, to create the infrastructure necessary to meet EU standards.

This means that the adjustment just serves as a tool to tilt the scales toward domestic industry. While that shift may seem positive to some, the Trump Administration’s tariffs give us a real life case study on why this is immensely negative. While the reasons for these tariffs were populist in nature, the lessons hold true for tariffs pushed forward for other policy goals.

Looking at the impact on washing machines, Trump’s tariffs increased the tariff on these goods to 20% on the first 1.2 million units imported, and to 50% for all units imported after that amount. The result was a 12% increase in the price of imported washing machines, and dryers, which despite not being taxed are often sold in pairs. Unfortunately, consumers were also faced with higher prices for domestic washing machines, largely because domestic producers were able to increase their prices as their competitor’s prices increased. For consumers, the end result of this policy was a price increase of around $88 per unit, which totaled to a total price inflation of $1.56 billion, generating $82.2 million in tariff revenue.

Now, supporters of tariffs might argue, as Trump did, that even though consumers were paying more for imported goods, and ironically domestic goods as well, the policy had the positive effect of emboldening domestic industry and creating jobs. This is actually true, the policy did create manufacturing jobs in the United States, approximately 1800 new positions. The problem is that those jobs came with an enormous cost for US consumers, so much so that American consumers paid $811,000 in higher prices per job created. This doesn’t even remotely come close to passing a cost benefit analysis.

We don’t know what the rate of the carbon adjustment would be, although it is likely that, per WTO rules, it would have to match whatever domestic rates of carbon taxation are. If the carbon tariff were to match, lets say, France’s domestic carbon tax of €44.81 per tonne of carbon emissions, the impact of a carbon adjustment would be significant. Take the figures from Trump’s washing machine fiasco, and apply those lessons to all products imported to Europe from high emission countries, and the bill consumers will have to shoulder is nothing short of astronomical.

Originally published here.

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