The European Union’s new chemical regulations leave the bloc vulnerable to Chinese domination

The European Union’s Chemical Agency (ECHA) risks creating new problems for itself by moving from a risk to a hazard-based assessment of chemicals.

Sometimes, eliminating one set of problems only creates more dangers in their stead. The European Union’s Chemical Agency (ECHA) is about to do just that by moving from a risk to a hazard-based assessment of chemicals. Though seemingly just a change in words, the decision means regulators can label a substance as dangerous for its properties based on the material’s hypothetical characteristics rather than real-world exposure to harm. Simply put, policymakers will be able to introduce severe warning labels or prevent a product from entering the market if just one of its molecules could be dangerous based on hypothetical assessments under controlled laboratory setups. The ECHA’s new regulations threaten to undermine the European chemical market while making the Union progressively dependent on China for raw resources.

The case of essential oils encapsulates the problem. Essential oils are water or steam-based extracts integral to anything from perfumes and cosmetics to shampoos and natural insect repellents. They are vital components for the emergent market in clean beauty, with nine hundred ninety-two mixtures (including household names such as lavender, rose, and citronella) giving makeup its cleansing properties and deodorants their unique scent. When highly concentrated in doses containing 10% or higher quantities of emulsion, citronella, sage, and cinnamon also provide one to four hours of protection from mosquito and tick bites. And, unlike traditional DEET or picaridin sprays, they remain harmless to bees and the environment.

Despite all these benefits, essential oils’ designation as complex natural substances will have to change with the introduction of hazard-based thinking. Rule-makers will label the mixtures as dangerous chemicals or ban them entirely under EU regulation 2021/1902. In either case, European consumers tend to avoid buying products with skulls and crossbones stamped on them.

It is no understatement to say that the consequences for the 3.53-billion-euro EU market would be dire. Once the ECHA’s new rules are fully adopted, current EU and world leaders in the supply of essential oils, like Bulgaria, France, and Italy, stand to lose. Bulgaria will no longer be the top producer of rose oil, wasting between 800kg and two tonnes of the material and 92 million euros worth of exports. Italy is single-handedly responsible for 95% of the world’s bergamot production and will lose 174 million euros. France is the third-largest exporter and the second-biggest producer of lavender, worth 458 million euros in exports that it would have to give up on. Moreover, smaller producers in each of these countries stand to lose the most as it would be too expensive for them to replace essential oils with other products (putting the 4500 family businesses behind Italian bergamot in danger).

The story does not stop there. The ECHA’s decision will allow China to dominate the essential oils market with impunity. Chinese lavender production is already at an all-time high, with 40 tonnes harvested yearly, ten of which are reserved for exports. The contraction of the European market will allow China to step in and become the world’s substitute for essential oils, overcoming its previously estimated growth in the sector of 10.8% over the next eight years. The news would be welcome under ideal economic circumstances of free trade and open, voluntary specialization within a global market; however, in our world, the Chinese state controls Xinjiang Province’s lavender reserves. As such, the Chinese Communist Party could cut access to raw materials to make liberal democracies surrender. Far from being safer, consumers are left more exposed to geopolitical blackmail by authoritarian regimes.

Policymakers should urge the ECHA to reverse its hazard-based reasoning in favor of risk-oriented thinking. Regulators should emphasize safe levels of intended use, which, in the case of essential oils, means allowing the European market to thrive (stepping in only to prevent force and pseudo-scientific fraud).  In so doing, the European Union can benefit from diversifying its essential oil sources, thus protecting consumers from the vagaries of great power politics.

Originally published here

Greens/EFA Report goes after plant researchers and EU organizations. It fails

A very dry summer alongside a low supply of fertilizer and energy spikes have created the perfect storm for the European agricultural sector, with staple crops like sunflower and grain maize plummeting by 12 and 16 per cent respectively (1).

No wonder there are increasing pressures (2) by member states such as the Czech Republic, Romania, Lithuania, Sweden and Italy to reconsider the EU rules leading to  the 2018 European Court of Justice decision on genetic plant breeding techniques. The Court’s ruling amends the original 2001 European Commission directive on plant modification by treating CRISPR-based plants and traditional genetic manipulation as one and the same. Critics rightfully point to how the judgment hampers innovation at a time of crisis when ingenuity is needed more than ever.

The response of the Greens European Free Alliance group to these pressures can best be characterized as stormy. The EFA has come out swinging in the arena of public discourse with a report (4) that includes a few pages of claims and many more pages of personal accusation.

No matter the emotional thunder, neither the report’s assertions nor its accusations hold water.

Its claims about the effects of genetic engineering are that it produces uncontrollable, unintended  and unsafe mutations in cells, well beyond the ones found naturally or in standard mutagenic breeding (as in, induced via radiation or chemical reaction). It would be better to stick to organic farming with organic plants instead.

Yet these claims do not measure up to the overwhelming evidence (5) (weighing thousands of studies over a 21 year-period) that gene edited plants  reduce (rather than increase) the need for pesticides (6), are less prone to disease (7) and are more reliable than older plant breeding methods (8). Even more critical analyses of studies (9) found no evidence of them being unsafe for humans.

The assertions ignore the fact that 100% organic farming is often more energy and use intensive (and thus more polluting) (10) and does not scale up (11) to the task of feeding billions of people worldwide.

These angry statements are often illogical. One line of argument says having a patent is proof that the new genetic procedure cannot produce the same result as a natural process. This must be true, it says, because it would not have been patented otherwise! That said, a patent can be awarded for other reasons than achieving a different result – such as finding a new and easier means to the same result. By ‘coincidence’,  this is closer to the real argument in favor of genetics-based  plant breeding.

Not to mention how the report overreaches by trying to discredit mutagenic rearing in the same breath as new techniques. At this point, the reason for rejecting mutagenic breeding (now almost a century old practice) is that it harms plants, despite it not harming people or animals. One could easily reject eating plants, or natural selection, on the same grounds.

Most of the report is less about science than it is about the politics in science. It accuses innovation-friendly academics and groups like EPSO, ALLEA or EU-SAGE of not being researchers at all. Rather, they are activists sneakily posing as neutral experts to do the sinister bidding of companies and revolving-door politicians. It then names and shames several individuals working in the field before concluding that more transparency is needed at the EU-level.

Let’s set aside for a moment that the accusations are false – many of these same researchers have never hidden their CVs from public scrutiny and have been very outspoken about their views (12).

Forget for a moment how unusual it is to say that well-established researchers should not pursue ‘career developments’ in the field they specialize in, must limit contacts in the industry whose performance they are asked to comment on and cannot access any of the public-private funds that are standard academic fare.

Let’s instead focus on what the report ends up doing. In trying to poison the debate with talk of dark interests, it undermines faith in the EU’s scientific institutions, since consumers have no reason to trust organizations that are as corrupt and selfish as the EFA makes them out to be. It sets out a viewpoint that paints all criticism as a ‘lobby claim’ and its side as ‘reality’. The report does all this while misunderstanding the science and practice of genetic modification.

Best then to take a deep breath and calm down.

Originally published here

The Truth About Organic Farming

Does shopping at upscale grocery stores make you a better consumer? Hardly. In fact, contrary to what you may already believe, organic food is not only less efficient and thus more expensive. It is also worse for the environment.

A study by the University of Melbourne in Australia shows that organic farming yields 43 percent to 72 percent less than conventional methods — and that achieving the same output requires 130 percent more farmland. For those skeptical about the results of just one study, you can find more of them hereherehere or here. The last-mentioned study underlines the point that “if all U.S. wheat production were grown organically, an additional (30.6 million acres) would be needed to match 2014 production levels.”

Organic food needs more resources than conventional farming. The effects on biodiversity are severe: insects and pollinators can access fewer natural reserves with organic agriculture. On top of that, under a 100 percent adoption scenario of organic farming, carbon-dioxide emissions would increase by up to a whopping 70 percent, as researchers in the United Kingdom have shown.

So why do some people in the United States continue to buy organic food at sometimes double the price of conventional food? One on hand, it’s performative. Shopping at sizeable organic food shops is popular and presumably the sort of thing you’re supposed to do once you have a comfortable salary in a large city. On the other hand, some consumers are misled about the alleged benefits of organic farming. Organic food is thought to be healthier (it isn’t) and to not use pesticides (it does).

Organic farming has become a talking point, more than just a beneficial placebo effect for upper-class city-dwellers. It is also political. “Democrats will invest in research and development to support climate-resilient, sustainable, low-carbon and organic agricultural methods,” the 2020 Democratic Party platform says. Yet the Democrats are doing more than just subsidization — environmentalists are undermining the catalog of pesticides available to farmers by arguing that they are dangerous. In fact, painting pesticides that have been safely used in American agriculture since the 1960s as “bee-killing” or “toxic” has been a frequent trope of activists who bemoan everything from “factory farming” to the availability of meat.

Sen. Cory Booker is happy to play a part in a New York Times opinion video in which he says “we are past the national emergency,” tying climate change with the American food system. Booker, whose home state of New Jersey produces a whopping … 0.35 percent of all the food in the United States, probably misrepresents the reality of American farming. In fact, agricultural intensification has led to peak agricultural land being reached, meaning that we make more food with less land overall, which allows our ecosystem to regrow over time. That means more forests and flowers for the aerial shots of political campaign videos.

The representation of the American food system as toxic and evil can only go so far before it becomes either comical or sad. Neither of them is a good look.

Originally published here

The Bees Are Doing Fine. Why Do Activists Say They Aren’t?

Pollinators are essential to our ecosystem; thus, a drastic decline in them would hurt not just nature around us but also humans. With that in mind, lawmakers around the globe have been worried about the effect of human behaviour on the sustainability of bee colonies. Environmentalists have been adamant that “bee-killing pesticides” are to blame, and not just in recent years: their claims that the chemicals we use to protect from crop losses and plant diseases are responsible for bee colony collapses. 

However, the numbers don’t bear that out. Since the introduction of neonicotinoid insecticides – the pesticides blamed for bee death – in the mid-90s, bee populations have not collapsed. The data show that as of 2020, there has been an increase of beehives by 17% since 2010, 35% since 2000, and 90% since 1961. In the United States, the number of bee colonies has been stable for 30 years, while in Europe, where farmers also use these insecticides, the number has increased by 20%.

Local or regional reductions in managed bees can occur because bee-keepers adapt their stock in terms of the market demand. As honey prices are currently on the rise, it is likely that in many areas, bee-keepers will increase their supply to benefit from higher prices. As for wild bees, not just are they hard to count (because, as the name suggests, they are wild), but existing research predicting catastrophic decline has been debunked in the past.

That does not mean that there are no threats to pollinators or that modern farming does not have an impact on them. In fact, climate change has affected the warming-tracking of bumble bees and led them to seek higher elevation. Added to that, solitary bees are affected by the impact of habitat loss caused by the rapid expansion of agriculture over the last centuries. That said, we need to put the habitat issue into context: research published on May 30 shows how comparative models point to peak agricultural land use already having been reached. This means that despite a growing population, humanity is unlikely to increase its need for land for farming purposes any longer. Even though that is the case, food production continues to grow because modern farming techniques allow us to create more yield with the same or even less land.

On the one hand, the reason for this shift lies in the fact that developing nations have increasing access to modern farming equipment and crop protection tools. Where previously farmers needed a lot of labour to hand-weed, machines are able to cover the entire field in a fraction of the time, and fungicides assure that the food is safe for human consumption. On the other hand, innovations in the developed world have also modernised the way we make, consume, and deliver food. Improved supply chains guarantee that we don’t need a farm in every small rural area anymore, and modern genetic engineering has made our crops more resilient and efficient. Yet even before that, the use of crop protection chemicals has ensured that farmers don’t lose a significant share of their crops each year.

However, with the development of modern agricultural practices came its opponents. Environmental activists have contested the legitimacy of the use of pesticides and instead advocated for organic farming. Not just does this undermine the trust in the regulatory bodies that oversee the safety of the products, but it also misses two key factors: organic farming, contrary to popular belief, does use a long list of pesticides, and a shift to all-organic would increase the need for farmland. A study by the University of Melbourne found that organic farming yields 43-72 percent less than traditional farming and that it requires 130 per cent more farmland to yield the same output.

Defenders of modern agriculture should vehemently push back against the notion that today’s food model undermines bee health or human health, for that matter. In fact, the solutions of environmental activists are so counter-productive to their own stated aims that we can safely say to them: we’re on your side, but you’re not.

Originally published here

What the US can learn from Europe’s war-induced food crisis

Lift the sanctions on Russia, and we’ll allow for Ukraine to export its food: that was the message that Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko passed on to its European counterparts recently. Moscow has been responsible for blocking Ukrainian transport ships carrying grain from passage through the Black Sea. Around 24 million metric tons of wheat and maize are currently unable to leave the country as prices are exploding. Wheat prices have jumped, now double compared to last year, while maize prices have gone up by 82 percent.

As Europe scrambles to find food imports from other trade partners — Russia being sanctioned and Ukraine unable to export — lawmakers are divided over the steps forward. In fact, the European Union had been discussing a comprehensive reform to its agricultural system through the so-called “Farm to Fork” plans. This roadmap seeks to reduce farmland by 10 percent, cut pesticide use in half, and increase organic farming to a fourth of the overall farmland use, up from the current 8 percent. Farmer representatives had been critical of the plans, and USDA published an impact assessment showing that the reforms would lead to a reduction in GDP between 7 and 12 percent. However, politicians in Brussels insisted that the plans were needed for the sake of the bloc’s carbon dioxide emission reduction targets.

Now that the war in Ukraine rages on longer than anyone expected, the tide is turning.

Both the European Parliament’s largest parliamentary group and France’s President Emmanuel Macron have made it clear that “Farm to Fork” comes at the wrong time and that in wartime Europe cannot afford the ambitious reforms. On top of that comes the pressure from Brexit Britain: England just introduced legislation that would legalize gene-editing in food production, in what is by far the most significant divergence from EU legislation since the exit. An adviser to the UK’s environment department said that this would have numerous benefits, from building crops that are more resistant to the climate crisis, pests and diseases to increasing crop yields, which could help to combat global hunger. All these factors are not just crucial in the long run but can also help the country weather food supply chain disruptions such as those created by the war in Ukraine.

This comes at a time when scientists just developed a gene-edited tomato that boosts vitamin D levels. Between 13 and 19 percent of Britons have a low vitamin D count, making innovations such as these essential.

Lawmakers in the United States have, in the past, attempted to copy European Union food regulations. The Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), supported by lawmakers including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would copy-paste EU food regulations into federal law. This piece of legislation, which could be approved by Democrats, would undermine the entire American food system as we know it. The United States has always preferred innovation over a hawkish approach to the precautionary principle, which is why, in contrast to Europe, it has assured that food is readily available and affordable. In 2020, Americans spent 5 percent of their disposable income on groceries, compared to 8.7 percent in Ireland (the lowest in the EU), 10.8 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Sweden, 17 percent in Hungary and 25 percent in Romania.

On the worldwide scale of food production, the United States has already fallen behind China and India. Both countries’ stake in food exports is negligible compared to the overall domestic production. However, unburdened by the increasing restrictions on modern agriculture, they could soon increase the economic competition in international food markets. China is already the leading trading partner for an increased number of countries in the world, particularly in developing nations.

The United States cannot afford to fall behind in the world food trade and should guarantee its competitive edge to support its allies in times of crisis.

Originally published here

Time to Dispel Pollinator Mistruths

May 20th marked the annual World Bee Day of the United Nations, an excellent occasion to debunk the myth that the bees are dying because of modern agriculture. This common misconception has been making the rounds through environmentalist activism and the media for almost two decades.

When California beekeepers in the 2000s experienced losses in their bee colonies, environmentalists first blamed who they’re used to blaming: genetic engineering. But unlike an episode of South Park, there is no Dr. Mephesto creating continuous disasters with outlandish experiments — in fact, the idea that GMOs were to blame for what was dubbed “Colony Collapse Disorder” was quickly rejected by the scientific community.

Green groups in the United States then turned their attention to pesticides, who for long have been an enemy of environmentalists who advocate for a return to traditionalist farming methods. Neonicotinoids as well as alternative products such as sulfoxaflor, have been targeted ever since as “bee-killing pesticides,” despite their significant importance for modern farming.

The scientific community however also rejected those claims for sulfoxaflor as recently as July last year. Claims that the said compound was also negated by both the European Food Safety Authority EFSA and the EPA, which calls it “better for species across the board.”

However, it isn’t just that the crop protection products blamed for bee declines aren’t responsible, but also that colony losses overall are a temporary phenomenon.

All it takes is a look at the statistics of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The data (which can be found here) shows that for 2020 numbers, there is an increase of beehives by 17% since 2010, 35% since the year 2000, and a 90% increase since the data was collected in 1961.

The most common threat that bees are supposedly subjected to by humans are neonicotinoid insecticides, known as neonics.

However, the popularization of neonics and its alternatives in the mid-’90s doesn’t trigger a collapse of bee populations. In the United States, the numbers of bee colonies have been stable for 30 years, while in Europe – where farmers also use these insecticides – the number has increased by 20%.

Yet environmentalists are expected to continue painting modern agriculture as a scapegoat, even in times when food inflation and supply shortages show us that we cannot afford a model that reduces productivity (as organic farming or agroecological processes do).

Despite the fact that farmers need crop protection products to assure that food products are affordable, safe and available, green activists call for an agricultural model that would all but outlaw them, thus making consumers worse off.

The European Union is slowly walking back its plans that would have cut pesticide use by 50% in the next few years — a rethink sparked by the war in Ukraine, which has created significant supply chain disruptions.

The United States should be proud of its agricultural success. Over time, with innovative technology, farmers use less and less crop protection products that leave fewer residues.

Meanwhile, consumers can continue to choose to buy alternatives, even though those come at a premium. This system makes up the beauty of an open economy: choices for consumers and stability for farmers.

Originally published here

Just like the bees, the ‘Beepocalypse’ myth isn’t dying

On World Bee Day, let’s set the record straight. It has been seven years since the Washington Post famously dispelled the myth of a catastrophic bee decline in an article titled “Call off the bee-pocalypse: honeybee colonies just hit a 20-year high.” The piece was one of many attempts to underline that pollinators are not under threat, contrary to popular belief.

In fact, looking at the statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, beehives are on the rise worldwide. The data show that as of 2020, there has been an increase of beehives by 17% since 2010, 35% since 2000, and 90% since 1961. The most common threats that bees are supposedly subjected to by humans are neonicotinoid insecticides, known as neonics. However, the popularization of neonics in the mid-90s didn’t trigger a collapse of bee populations. In the United States, the number of bee colonies has been stable for 30 years, while in Europe, where farmers also use these insecticides, the number has increased by 20%.

When radical conservationists turned their attention instead to wild bees — because, unlike managed bees, you don’t have to deal with those pesky statistics — they attempted the same doom-and-gloom strategy. Researchers claimed to have found that wild bees in the U.S. declined 23% between 2008 and 2013, yet the model they produced to identify these numbers was dubious at best. So dubious that Science 2.0 took apart the methodology and described it as follows: “They created an academic model that would get them fired from every single company in existence for being wildly suspect and based on too many assumptions. The authors then claim the decline they don’t know is happening must be due to pesticides, global warming and farmers. This passes for a study in Vermont; it just does not pass for a study in science.” Ouch!

In fact, declines of both managed and wild bees occur naturally through weather changes and the decisions of beekeepers about how many bees they currently need. As honey prices are now on a steep increase, it is likely that beekeepers will upgrade their colony numbers to increase sales over the next few years.

Then, why do serious journalists still write news stories about neonics with the phrase “bee-killing pesticide“? One would think that in the age of fighting misinformation, news on the environment, in particular, would be meticulously fact-checked. It is most likely a mix of ideological possession of those in the press and a healthy amount of lazy journalism. To be fair, “save the bees” is catchier than “bee colony collapses are statistically temporary and unrelated to modern crop protection tools.”

Originally published here

Herbicide shortage underlines its importance

The United States is facing a historic shortage of weed killers due to ongoing supply chain issues. The manufacturers are struggling to get their hands on some of the inert chemicals needed to make herbicides, as well as cardboard boxes and plastic jugs for caps. Glyphosate is one of the chemicals most affected by these supply chain problems, with farmers scrambling for alternative products to fight off undesired weeds.

This comes conjointly with a regulatory and legislative crackdown on a wide array of herbicides across the country, limiting the ability of farmers to control weeds this year.

The fact that rules vary between counties complicates the matter further, with agriculture professionals confused over which ingredients remain legally accessible, and needing the assistance of weed scientists to sift through the regulatory jungle. This is particularly problematic as many farmers have land extending across different counties.

While shortages affect the day-to-day lives of farmers, law makers’s long-term actions have more far-reaching consequences.

Weed-killers have come under fire by activist groups opposing the use of crop protection, accusing it of harming endangered species. Preventing these species from going extinct is guaranteed through the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a problematic piece of legislation due to its obtuse standards as to what exactly constitutes an endangered species in the first place.

As Hank Campbell at Science 2.0 explains, the ESA has been hijacked by trial lawyers, who use the law to arbitrarily fit their litigation purposes, and perpetuate definitions of “endangered” that are far removed from what the general public understands by the term. In fact, Campbell shows that the numbers of endangered species according to the ESA has skyrocketed under the Clinton and Obama administrations. As a result, we’ve seen a large amount of chemicals companies being sued, then settled, with environmental groups over their manufacturing of pesticides.

As a consumer, why care? As consumers we need to realize that crop protection plays a role in our daily lives, and not in the way it is portrayed by activists and, all too often, the media. When news outlets publish stories with the headline “Glyphosate weed killer found in German beers, study finds,” it makes sense to read through the entire piece and understand that a single person would need to ingest 264 gallons of beer a day for it to be harmful to health. Let’s agree that a person ingesting 264 gallons of beer in one day will supposedly have bigger problems than the exposure to a weed-killer. In turn, herbicides which are so viciously attacked on unscientific grounds provide essential advantages for farmers.

Pre-herbicides we used to hand weed, a practice so painfully visible in developing nations that still practice it. Herbicides alleviate the burden on women and all too often children who are required to hand-weed. In fact, 80% of hand-weeding in Africa is done by women, and 69% of farm children between the ages of 5 through 14 are forced to leave school to work in the agricultural sector during peak weeding periods, leading to long-term spinal deformities.

Herbicides have also increased our agricultural output, and guaranteed food security. Food security– how immense the technological advance is that we don’t even think about the possibilities of food products not being available on our shelves.

That said, the current food price inflation shows how vulnerable our system can actually be. Farming is more than just putting a seed in the ground and hoping it grows. Farming has become an intricate orchestra of players, all interdependent, all relying on technology and modern science. As consumers, if we want safe, available, and affordable food options, we need to recognize the incredibly important work that farmers do, and put our trust in their professional rigor.

Originally published here

The U.S. Was Right To Warn The EU About Green Agriculture

The United Nations has warned about the looming food crisis in light of the war in Ukraine. The poorest countries in Africa, heavily dependent on Ukraine and Russia’s wheat supplies, are at high risk of starvation and malnutrition. Food security is also crumbling in Europe, packed with refugees from Ukraine and other politically unstable regions.

Until the very last moment, no one in the world⁠—except Russian President Vladimir Putin–knew whether the war would break out. One can then say that the food crisis caught Europe off guard. But that would be wrong. Europe simply ignored the red flags⁠—and now it’s paying the price.

The European Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), presented in 2019, intended to “enable and accelerate the transition to a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system.” That implied reducing pesticides by 50% by 2030 and increasing organic farming by at least 25%. Many European politicians vehemently defended F2F’s green goals. In October 2021, most Members of the European Parliament voted in favor of the F2F. 

The U.S., however, had no illusions about the F2F. A groundbreaking 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that F2F would reduce “agricultural production by 7 to 12% and diminish the EU’s competitiveness in both domestic and export markets.” The U.S. also recognized that the F2F would impose additional burdens on the EU-U.S. trade talks. 

Commenting on the F2F, David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, stressed: “A concern coming out of that for us is, in the future, could [Farm to Fork] result in some new trade barriers if they decide the way they want to produce food is the only way and they only want to let products in from outside that produce food the same way?” These concerns were particularly justified and shared by African countries, especially Kenya, as well. At home, multiple EU farming associations warned about the detrimental impact of F2F.

However, it took the war in Ukraine to make the EU realize the damaging scale of its green ambitions. Ukraine is one of the EU’s major agricultural partners, and it is only natural that the trade disruption has raised questions about the EU’s own food security. Less than two weeks into the war, the realization that the green agenda is not feasible has hit the EU.

On March 8th, European People’s Party (EPP), the parliament’s largest group, asked to call off the F2F. French President Emmanuel Macron also said that “Europe cannot afford to produce less.” It took the EU less than a month of war⁠—not even on its soil⁠—to realize that the green agenda is not fit for the challenges of today. And who needs such unsustainable policies to start with?

On the one hand, it’s great that the EU has now realized that green agriculture is unworkable. On the other hand, the whole drama could have been avoided in the first place if the EU had thoroughly considered the U.S.’s concerns. Moving forward, both the EU and the U.S. should use the F2F as a reminder that green policies sound great on paper⁠—but they are not feasible.

Originally published here

The War in Ukraine is a Slap in the Face of the Green Agenda

On the 24th of February, Russia started an unprovoked full-scale war against Ukraine. As Ukrainians are dying on the battlefield, the petrol prices bring a sense of war to every household globally. On the 8th of March, the U.S. recorded the highest fuel price per gallon of $4.17. European consumers also brace for further increases.

The war in Ukraine has changed policy priorities. The comforts and privileges of the pre-war time, when we could afford to spend countless hours discussing climate change, are gone. Now we have to deal with tangible crises, with the risk of global hunger being the greatest.

Ukraine and Russia are top global exporters of wheat, grain, and various nutrients. Russia, for example, accounts for 6 percent of the U.S.’s potassium imports – second only to Canada. Belarus, now on the brink of new sanctions, also contributes 6 percent. While the U.S. will probably manage to substitute these imports quickly, the search costs and high fuel prices alone will toll food production.

Globally, things look even grimmer. According to the United Nations, the disruption caused by the war could push international food prices by a staggering 22 percent. Food insecurity and malnutrition in the world’s poorest countries will consequently also be on the rise. The Center for Global Development has found that the price spike in food and energy will push over 40 million into poverty.

The war has served as a wake-up call for the EU, heavily dependent on Ukraine’s grain and Russia’s fertilizer imports. Europe has now realized that it can no longer afford its green agriculture plans, once so passionately advocated for. The Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy ambitiously sought to cut the use of pesticides in the EU by 50 percent while increasing organic farming production from 7.5 percent to 25 percent. 

Ferociously endorsed by green groups, the strategy was also highly costly and hardly climate-friendly. As the world cripples with limited resources, organic farming requires more farmland. To drastically reduce the use of pesticides – without giving farmers an alternative – would be a final nail in the coffin of European food production. Farmers’ associations understandably protested, but that wasn’t enough to make European policymakers change their minds.

The EU’s green agriculture strategy was so expensive that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, its impact “would stretch beyond the EU, driving up worldwide food prices by 9 (EU only adoption) to 89 percent (global adoption).” The said study found that F2F would reduce “agricultural production by 7 to 12%  and diminish the EU’s competitiveness in both domestic and export markets.” A more recent 2022 study by Dutch scientists found that productionwill decline by 10 to 20%, or in some cases 30%. With strategies like this, the world wouldn’t need wars to find itself at the end of the cliff.

But, ironically, it took a war to make the EU realize that the F2F was not workable. Less than two weeks into the Ukraine-Russia war, as food prices climbed up and food security was at risk, the strategy got called off. In arguing for the pausing of the F2F, French President Emmanuel Macron said that “Europe cannot afford to produce less.”

The EU has convinced itself that green agriculture was the way forward, and it was only a matter of time until the bloc would have started telling the world to go green. Thankfully, the U.S. saw through these intentions and blasted the F2F as “protectionist,” “uncompetitive,” and misguided.” Commenting on F2F,  the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “The world’s got to get fed, and it’s got to get fed in a sustainable way. And we can’t basically sacrifice one for the other.” The EU had a chance to learn that green agriculture is not sustainable earlier if it listened to the U.S. Now, as the global food security crumbles, the bloc is learning it the hard way.

The war in Ukraine is a brutal reminder that our reality remains vulnerable to external shocks, so we should only build food systems that last and stand firm. Green agriculture is not one of them, and it should never be back on the agenda. Not in the EU, or the U.S., not anywhere.

Originally published here

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