Thursday, 29 October 2020

The EU stumbles in its approach to industrial agriculture

The European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy indicated the ambition of the European Commission to overhaul EU farming policy and make it more sustainable. The Green Deal proposed that 40% of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should “contribute to climate action.” (my blog of 5 May).

The European Council conclusions of 13 July stated that industrial agriculture “increases the risk of future pandemics and need to be tackled” (my blog of 22 July).

Then, in the week beginning 19 October, the European Parliament undid much of the good achieved by the Commission and the Council. The Parliament rejected the proposal to ban the term “veggie burger”; BUT approved a ban on applying dairy terms (e.g. creamy, yogurt-style and cheese substitute) to plant-based products; AND voted against limiting agricultural subsidies to intensive factory farms e.g. by not providing support to concentrated animal feeding operations.

This demonstrated a total lack of ambition to use EU farm subsidies to achieve significant improvements for animals and the environment; and above all wasted (indeed spurned) a valuable opportunity to achieve comprehensive and radical reform of the CAP in the wake of the Green Deal. The Council were reduced to issuing a statement that the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy were simply “recommendations”: thus failing to support the Commission at a crucial time.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

EU priorities at the UN: European Council conclusions on industrial agriculture

Industrial agriculture increases the ‘risk of future pandemics and needs to be tackled’, according to the European Council, which calls for action to be taken on a global basis alongside other major issues including climate change and deforestation.

The full wording of the Council’s conclusions on this point, published on 13 July, and setting out the EU’s priorities for the coming year at the United Nations, are as follows.

“Deforestation, industrial agriculture, illegal wildlife trade, pollution, climate change, water scarcity, inefficient sanitation and waste management and other types of environmental degradation increase the risk of future pandemics and need to be tackled…The EU will support inclusive preparations for effective deliverables at the UN Secretary General’s Food Systems Summit in order to scale up action to continue the transformation of the current food systems to make them healthier, more resilient and environmentally sustainable.”

The Council added that the Covid-19 crisis had “sharpened the focus on the inadequacy of the global response to the climate and biodiversity emergencies… A new reality after COVID-19 should also mean a more modern, climate-neutral and circular economy that will make us less dependent on resources and boost our resilience…The fifth UN Environment Assembly provides an important opportunity to set the stage and drive ambition to foster a green recovery agenda and environmental sustainability.”

Monday, 13 July 2020

Political economy effects of Covid-19 on Central and South Eastern Europe

On July 9, 2020, the European Political Economy Project (EuPEP), in collaboration with SEESOX, hosted a tour d’horizon of how Central and South Eastern European countries have confronted Covid-19. The speakers were Charles Enoch (St Antony’s College, Oxford); Christos Gortsos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens); Piroska Nagy-Mohacsi (LSE Institute of Global Affairs); Kaloyan Simeonov (European Studies Department, Sofia University, St Kliment Ohridski) and Kori Udovicki (Centre for Advanced Economic Studies, Belgrade). Daniel Hardy (St Antony’s College, Oxford) chaired.

There was consensus across panellists that the region has handled the pandemic relatively well, with fewer deaths and less output decline than elsewhere. Charles Enoch, summarizing the discussion, noted the dichotomy between old and new Europe (including Greece in new Europe): the difference in mortality rates so far has been extraordinary, in some cases 10-fold. Panellists attributed this to regional governments’ relatively quick and effective response, with helpful (though often not generous) fiscal packages, and to the valuable tailwinds from ‘innovative and forceful’ ECB and Federal Reserve monetary easing. There has been little politicization of the process. However, the future is far from secure. The impact of lower growth on the real economy will surely manifest itself in higher unemployment than seen so far, and in a resurgence of non-performing loans—reversing the hard-won recovery since the global financial crisis.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Our food policy: Pandemics, wildlife and intensive animal farming

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) held a Webinar on 2 June, together with Dr Jane Goodall (leading conservationist and UN Messenger for Peace), the European Commissioners for Health and Food Safety and for Agriculture, and seven Members of the European Parliament (from seven countries and all key political groups). There were 1,200 viewers.

This was an important opportunity for the Commissioners and the MEPs to set out their positions on the leadership role of the EU in charting an urgently-needed way forward, starting with radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Dr Goodall was introduced by Philip Lymbery, Global CEO of CIWF. He said that, as countries started to emerge from Covid-19 induced lockdown, what had become clear was that the coronavirus pandemic had shown how fragile society really was; and that for the sake of a decent tomorrow, big changes were needed today.

Whilst Covid-19 was widely seen as having emanated from China’s wet markets and the illegal wildlife trade, it was but the latest disease to emerge from our appalling treatment of animals.

Industrial agriculture, where thousands of animals were caged, crammed and confined, produced the perfect breeding ground for disease. Highly pathogenic strains of Avian Influenza or Swine Flu were but two examples, the latter causing a pandemic only a decade ago killing some half a million people.

Unless we took this opportunity to change things, to reset the way we view animals, both farmed and wild, then we could predict with reasonable confidence that it wouldn’t be the last.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

COVID-19 and our food system: The pandemic on our plate?


Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) has just issued a wide-ranging critique of our global food system. “Is the next pandemic on our plate? Our food system through the lens of Covid-19” is a strong and urgent call for fundamental reform in the wake of COVID-19. It was written by Peter Stevenson, CIWF’s chief policy advisor and leading commentator on the future of food, farming and animal welfare.

This has particular resonance for the EU in view of the European Green Deal: and especially the “Farm to Fork” strategy, which refers to “designing a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system”.

The key message from CIWF is that COVID-19 has highlighted the danger of ignoring potential crises until they are hard upon us. Other crises – climate change, antibiotics resistance, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity and pollution – are rapidly coming down the line. We are doing too little to tackle these pending disasters. And in each case our food system plays a major part in generating these problems. We must change the way we farm, and what we eat.

The main supporting messages are:
  • Serious diseases can jump from wild animals to humans. In addition, the crowded, stressful conditions in factory farms can be the perfect breeding ground for infectious diseases, some of them zoonotic. Also the high level of disease in factory farms leads to the routine use of antimicrobials: driving antimicrobial resistance in animals, and in turn undermining their efficacy in human medicine. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreaks are associated with intensive domestic poultry production. Our cruel abuse of wild and farmed animals is damaging our health.