Agrifood Brief: They had it coming

They had it coming, they had it coming – they only have themselves to blame, sings the six merry murderesses of the Cook County jail in the smash hit musical Chicago.

The group of incarcerated women, pushed to the edge by their abusive relationships, are airing their grievances over the situation they have found themselves in.

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But they might as well have been singing about the European Commission’s handling of the unilateral decision of a group of eastern EU countries to block agricultural imports from Ukraine, who cracked last week under the pressure of an influx of agricultural goods from the war-torn country.

Because the thing is, we could have seen this coming from a mile away.

Romania first sounded the alarm in September, warning that farmers were at risk of bankruptcy due to the quantities of grain flooding the Romanian market, promptly followed by warnings from Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary.

At first, the response was denial.

“There is no destructive or negative impact of exports from Ukraine on EU markets,” EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told reporters at the time, stressing it “does not negatively affect the situation of farmers, nor does it affect the prices negatively.”

It wasn’t until months later, in March 2023, that the Commission finally acknowledged there were some issues and announced an aid package to help the struggling frontline countries.

But, by this point, it was too little too late for the struggling frontline countries, who decided to take matters into their own hands and, like dominoes, ban the entry of all agricultural goods from Ukraine one after the other.

♫  ‘It was a murder, but (apparently) not a crime’ ♫ 

Although there are some get-out-of-jail-free cards that countries can legally play to take unilateral trade decisions, experts agree that the move to ban all agricultural imports from Ukraine is most likely in breach of EU trade law.

But not only did the EU executive fail to condemn the behaviour of the five rogue member states – who, let’s face it, do not have the best track record for toeing the line – but it actually rewarded them with a shiny new €100 million support package and lengthy negotiations over how best to appease them.

They even apparently used this as a bribe for good behaviour, telling the member states that the funding is conditional on the countries dropping their bans.

The whole handling of this saga has predictably sharp criticism from commentators, who point out that this sends a dangerous message that member states can blackmail the Commission into getting what they want by flouting EU law.

To be clear, this is in no way condoning the countries’ behaviours. But it’s true that if the EU executive doesn’t want to encourage this kind of extortion, they’re going about it very oddly.

Essentially, the Commission opted to throw EU farmers under the bus for months in favour of a political show of support for Ukraine and then were surprised – and woefully unprepared – for the logical consequence of this behaviour.

In short, they had it coming – they only had themselves to blame.

By Natasha Foote 

Subscribe to EURACTIV’s Agrifood Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering agriculture and food from across Europe. The Agrifood Brief is brought to you by EURACTIV’s Agrifood Team – Gerardo Fortuna (@gerardofortuna), Natasha Foote (@NatashaFoote), Paula Andrés (@paulandresr_), and Julia Dahm (@dahm_julia)

Agrifood podcast: Ukraine’s import ban, animal transport and a leak

This week, EURACTIV’s agrifood editor Gerardo Fortuna walks you through the key issues around the controversial ban from Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia on importing agricultural goods from Ukraine. EURACTIV’s Paula Andrés talks about a leaked impact assessment on the ongoing animal welfare legislation revision and interviews Eva Lindström, a member of the European Court of Auditors who led a new review on live animal transport in the EU.

Agrifood stories this week

Drop import bans if you want the money, Commission tells frontline EU countries
Member states will need to lift unilateral bans on importing agricultural goods from Ukraine to receive the promised financial aid to support their farmers, EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told agriculture ministers in a closed meeting. Natasha Foote has the story.

EU frontline countries demand further support amid Ukraine agri-import ban
Five EU ‘frontline’ countries have joined forces to push the Commission for more support following their unilateral decisions to ban all Ukrainian agriculture imports, as the war-torn country warned exports are the only way for their farmers to survive. Natasha Foote has more.

Ministers warn EU pesticide cut plan could jeopardise agriculture exports
EU ministers have raised concerns over the compatibility of international plant health requirements with the EU’s plan to reduce the use of pesticides, warning this risks ‘jeopardising’ agricultural exports from the EU. Paula Andrés explains all.

Agriculture MEPs ask to exclude cows from emission-cutting plans
Cattle should be exempt from the EU’s plans to cut emissions, according to lawmakers in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI), who have also voted to raise the threshold of poultry and pigs impacted by the plans. Natasha Foote has more.

Leaked impact assessment shows ‘promising’ animal welfare legislation
Phase-out of cages in farming, shortening journeys of live animals, ban on mutilations, and limiting stocking density are some of the Commission’s preferred measures in the forthcoming animal welfare legislation revision, a leaked impact assessment shows. Paula Andrés has the details.

MEPs question Commission’s timeline to adopt new animal welfare rules
Green and centre-right EU lawmakers raised concerns – for opposing reasons – on whether the animal welfare rules revision will be presented before this legislative mandate ends, while the EU executive stressed it is still planned for this year. Paula Andrés has the details.

More independent advice is needed to break farmers’ dependency on pesticides
Agriculture stakeholders asked for more independent consulting and training for farmers, which they say is needed to help reduce pesticide use and break the influence of ‘big industry’ cooperatives that sell products to farmers. Learn more.


Commissioner hints at gene editing deregulation. New genomic techniques can support sustainability, Health Commissioner ⁦Stella Kyriakides told MEPs in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee this week,  adding that the EU executive is “designing a regulatory framework to send the signal to industry and farmers that this is the way forward in the EU”. The Commission is currently finalising its proposal on new genomic techniques, she added, and the indicative agenda is still to publish “in June”, although she did not give details as to an exact date. 

MEPs renew suspension of EU import duties on Ukrainian exports. The European Parliament’s international trade committee gave its green light on Thursday for another one-year suspension of EU import duties on Ukrainian exports to support the country’s economy. Learn more.

EU food security plan. MEPs in the European Parliament’s agriculture committee adopted a new report this week calling on the EU to develop a plan to ensure food security. Reacting on Twitter, DG AGRI’s John Clarke wrote on Twitter that food security is “not the same thing as self-sufficiency”. “More independence from unreliable suppliers – yes. But need to spread the risk – local, regional and global suppliers and markets – which also ensures prices stay affordable,” he commented.

Pesticide residues. The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) published its latest report on pesticide residues in food in the EU this week. It found that 2.1% of samples contained residues exceeding the permitted levels, while the overall rate at which pesticide residues exceeded maximum residue levels rose from 1.4% in 2018 to 2.1% in 2021. Learn more.

Pesticide pollution. Pesticide pollution still poses significant risks to human health and the environment, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing published this week, which stressed that “much more” needs to be done to achieve the EU’s ambitions to reduce by 50% the use and risk of chemical and more hazardous pesticides by 2030. Check out the report here.

Pesticide policy recommendations. Campaign group Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN) published a new report offering 10 recommendations to close the gaps in EU pesticide authorisation this week. Learn more.

Sustainable food systems transition. Slow Food and the European Environmental Bureau, with the support of the EU Food Policy Coalition, have put together a new report on policy recommendations for a meaningful transition in the EU food system ahead of the presentation of the Sustainable Food Systems law.

New alliance. A new cross-sector European business alliance, ‘Together for Sustainable Packaging’, launched this week to open up the public debate about the EU’s proposed packaging and packaging waste legislation.

Just transition for agri sector. The European Federation of Food Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions released its recommendations for action to deliver a just transition in the agri-food and tourism sectors in light of millions of jobs at risk due to the climate crisis.

Tuna management plan. MEPs approved the result of negotiations on the multi-annual management plan for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean this week. However, fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told MEPs during an exchange of views on Wednesday (26 April) that the Parliament and Council’s amendments to the reform of the fisheries control system “foresees backtracking from the current rules on the margin of tolerance for pelagic and tropical tuna fisheries” which will encourage overfishing.

Irish petition against EU overfishing.petition has been launched by Irish environmental organisations, with the support of Irish green MEP Grace O’Sullivan, calling on the Irish government to reject proposals by the European Parliament and some EU countries to deregulate rules on how fish are caught, weighed and reported – the Fisheries Control Regulation which is currently being reformed.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals


Netherlands: Buy-out of biggest nitrogen polluters to be delayed. The buy-out of so-called ‘peak polluters’, which was supposed to be agreed upon this month, will be delayed until at least the end of May, as the corresponding buy-out scheme has not yet been finalised, sources close to the matter stated on Monday. Read more. (Benedikt Stöckl I


Beekeepers ask to stop cheap honey imports. Romania has a surplus of honey but struggles to sell it due to unfair competition from cheaper imported honey, especially from Ukraine, China, and Moldova, Romania’s beekeeper association warned. Read the full story. (Catalina Mihai I


Farmers’ protest over ‘radical environmentalists’ brings Ljubljana to a halt. Several thousand farmers and an estimated 1,500 tractors from around the country gathered for their second rally in a month to protest against environmental and other restrictions on farming, effectively bringing Slovenia’s capital to a halt on Tuesday. Find out more. (Ela Petrovčič | STA)


Memorandum of cooperation with Ukraine. Italy’s two national farming associations, Coldiretti and Filiera Italia, signed a memorandum of cooperation this week with the Ukrainian Agri Council with the support of the Italian and Ukrainian Ministries of Agriculture. This included plans for cooperation in both the short and long term, as well as support for the demining of agricultural areas and restoration of agricultural machinery, bioenergy production and the use of the latest technologies for growing crops and cultivating fields.


EU to consider Spain’s aid request over drought concerns. The European Commission plans to examine the impact of the drought on producers in Spain “urgently” to decide whether to grant the aid requested by the Spanish government, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, said on Tuesday. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.


Land prices set to increase. reports The cost of agricultural land across Ireland is expected to increase by an average of 8% this year, a survey by auctioneers suggests. Land price is one of the most prohibitive factors for new entrants entering into farming. According to the report, which surveyed 134 auctioneers and valuers, the outlook for dairy farmers is expected to ease while the future is challenging for sheep and tillage farmers.


3 May | Virtual high-level event to launch the Global Report on Food Crises 2023

4 May | ENVI Committee meeting

4 May | Rethinking arable farming in a changing climate


[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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