by | Jun 23, 2022 | Opinion

European Green Deal could see food become a luxury

Is food set to be a luxury of the wealthy? This is the question that resounds from reviewing the agricultural policies that Europe is seeking to adopt – policies that will have major implications for New Zealand food producers exporting to Europe.

With 800 million people going to bed hungry every night and an expected rise in global population from 7.8 to 9.5 billion by 2050, food security must be at the heart of any political agenda for agriculture.

New Zealand exports over NZ$1.1 billion in horticultural products to Continental Europe, making it one of our top export markets. The ‘chemical strategy’ for sustainability – part of the Farm to Fork strategy of the EU Green Deal – risks the loss of tools to manage pests and diseases and disregards the importance of affordable and healthy food for human survival.

Europe will demand more regulation on all food as imported food must comply with the same environmental standards as food produced in Europe – meaning that countries must ‘mirror’ the EU’s standards.

The Deal will affect our food exports, especially if crop protection products are banned from use on the continent, due to rules preventing the manufacture and export of some substances.

The products it bans will not be able to be used for growing food destined for the continent due to a risk of ‘illegal’ residues. This imposes a change in the products that can be used for managing pests and diseases. It also forces exporters to produce all food the same way or face increasing complexities for exporting to the EU and other nations – as it’s not always practicable, or even possible, for one farmer to produce food differently for different markets.

The Deal sets a precedent for all countries, especially those who rely on exports to the continent, to follow suit. Many, especially developing nations, will not have access to the same means or tools to meet those standards – ultimately hindering food security and economic growth for those who need it the most. Not all farmers are as heavily subsidised as their European counterparts.

Introducing more regulation isn’t justified when existing rules already meet exceedingly high safety measures, far beyond any that would pose a health risk.  Any change in product use must be carefully assessed for its implications, and progress must be made slowly to ensure farmers can adapt, including having access to the same plant protection products as the Europeans.

On a brighter note, the recent Free Trade Agreement with the United Kingdom is a beacon of light for our primary industries, as all tariffs are incrementally removed from key export products. This is expected to boost New Zealand’s GDP by up to $1 billion.

However, it is still unclear what a Free Trade Agreement with the EU and the Green Deal might offer. Disrupted global energy supplies are expected to impact these export markets, as they drive up imported commodity prices – especially fuel, but also food, fertilisers, feed and aluminium. This will likely add pressures to already high domestic inflation and rising production costs, dampening spending power further as well as consumer and business confidence, as explained in the latest ‘Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries’ by the Ministry of Primary Industries.

With a target date of 2050, there is time to challenge and review some of the EU’s policy rules. To ensure that farmer voices are heard, groups, such as CropLife Europe, are connecting with decision-makers in Brussels to ensure that any new rules under the Farm to Fork strategy allow for optimum food production.

At a recent symposium Oliver de Matos, Director General of CropLife Europe, labelled the Green Deal as the political ambition of Europe to become a global leader in environmental issues and argues that a slow approach for reassessing agrichemical use in field crops is necessary to ensure food security.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the European Commission, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the G7 have all urged countries not to put up artificial barriers on food trade. A similar declaration could not be agreed at a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva in mid-June.

During a global food crisis, with wheat prices 60 percent higher in June 2022 than they were in January 2021, there was pressure for the WTO to deliver a meaningful outcome on trade and food security. However, aside from emergency food security measures and food for humanitarian purposes, members were unable to agree on a work programme for future negotiations in agriculture due to longstanding differences.

Even without the war, the countries the EU most wants to sign free trade agreements with —New Zealand, Australia, Canada and India —warned that the clauses in the deal could jeopardise those agreements.

To avoid a massive food security problem that could have dire consequences for many – especially developing countries, it’s crucial that trade flows aren’t disrupted. Europe must be careful that its policies don’t result in food becoming a luxury and only affordable to the wealthy. It must also consider the ability of farmers to earn a living.

After all, with Covid and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the last thing any country needs is a food crisis like the one Sri Lanka is currently experiencing.

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