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Saturday 24 February 2018

Nordic and Baltic states call for root-and-branch reform of CAP

European Union Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis
European Union Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis

A group of countries has tabled a 67-item list of how to fix the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

Six Nordic and Baltic states - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden - made the submission to EU farm ministers on Monday in an effort to pare down the policy post-Brexit.

They say the existing policy "comes close to micromanagement" at times and contains "layers of rules" that make it costly and burdensome for farmers.

"The result is a highly complex administrative set-up that creates costs and burdens that cannot be motivated by the outcome," the six countries say in a joint paper to farm ministers.

One of the suggestions they make is to allow agricultural subsidies to be paid even while on-farm inspections are ongoing, to prevent payment delays due to lengthy checks.

This is especially true, they say, for checks on environmental practices such as crop rotation or ecological focus areas (EFAs).

The current rules require all administrative and physical checks to be completed before any direct payments can be made to a farmer.

They also say that there are more detailed requirements for animals than crops, putting an unfair burden on livestock farmers, particularly when it comes to penalties for not meeting requirements.

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"We would like to continue simplification," said Finnish agriculture minister Kimmo Tiilikainen of the paper, which he said he was "proud" to present to ministers.

"It is our obligation as European ministers to provide a simpler and more effective Common Agricultural Policy to our farmers, and this is our last chance to achieve it since Brexit negotiations will make it more complicated," said Cypriot farm minister Nicos Kouyialis.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has said it will not be raising the threshold of what land farmers should set aside for environmental purposes.

Greening subsidies

Current rules say farmers with arable land exceeding 15 hectares must ring fence 5pc of it as an "ecological focus area" (EFA) to benefit wildlife and plant life.

Along with crop rotation and maintaining permanent grassland, setting aside land as EFA is also a way of earning "greening" subsidies from the EU.

A Commission report found that in 2015, almost eight million hectares of land was declared as EFA, or 13pc, twice as much as required by law.

Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan said the practice provides "benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services".

But nature campaigners, the European Environmental Bureau, say greening payments have a negligible effect on the environment, particularly as farmers continue to use pesticides on EFA land.

EU beefs up checks on Brazilian meat imports

The EU will soon send auditors to ensure reinforced checks are being carried out on Brazilian beef entering the bloc, following the rotten-meat scandal in the country.

Brazilian police discovered corrupt practices at 21 meat processors earlier this month that enabled unsafe produce to pass health-and-safety checks.

None of the establishments is currently exporting meat to the EU.

After a meeting with Brazilian agriculture minister Blairo Maggi last week, EU health chief Vytenis Andriukaitis (pictured) said he would "reassess measures as things evolve".

"The EU and Brazil are strong partners," Mr Andriukaitis said after the meeting.

"I want to see the minister's commitment to demonstrate that we can have full trust in their official controls - in their independent official controls," he added. "This would send a message to Brazilian partners that the Brazilian system is able to deliver trust, reliability and predictability. The suspicion of corruption is unacceptable."

EU farm attachés agreed last week to carry out physical checks on all consignments presented for import to the EU and to carry out microbiological checks in a fifth of cases.

"The safety of food products is crucial to maintain the credibility of our control systems and the consumers' confidence in the food chain," Mr Andriukaitis said.

"This crisis emphasises consumers' right to know more details about the origin of food," said Finnish agriculture minister Kimmo Tiilikainen ahead of a briefing by Mr Andriukaitis on his meetings with the Brazilian side.

MEPs in the European Parliament's agriculture committee are demanding answers from the Commission on how the scandal will affect ongoing trade talks with the Mercosur group of South American countries, including Brazil.

The Irish Farmers' Association said the Brazilian scandal is a major lesson for the EU.

"It is clear from the weak-flesh scandal that the production systems in Brazil fail to meet EU standards and as a result, meat imports from Brazil should not be accepted into the EU," said IFA livestock leader Angus Woods.

Commission claims it has been made a scapegoat on GM feed

The European Commission is furious at being made a scapegoat on genetically modified food and feed.

A spokesman for the bloc’s health chief issued a strongly worded statement last week after EU countries failed to agree on whether to approve three new types of GM seed for cultivation.

“Once again, the Commission will have no choice but to take the responsibility for the EU decision in relation to these requests for authorisation,” the spokesman said.

The three varieties of GM maize have received favourable opinions from the EU’s food safety agency.

Under new rules introduced in 2015, EU countries have had the possibility to opt-out from the cultivation of these GMOs.

So far 19 countries, not including Ireland, have chosen to do so on all or part of their territory.

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