US secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack made his way to Brussels this week where he took part in a forum for the future of agriculture event.
Afterwards, he and his opposite number in the EU, agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, announced an EU-US collaboration platform with the ambition of tackling sustainability and climate change.
Vilsack and Wojciechowski have committed their departments to “exchange knowledge and information, and to promote mutual understanding and trust, as we work together to address global challenges and achieve common goals and reaffirming our mutual commitment to sustainable and climate-smart agricultural production, recognising that we are both engaged in multiple, effective ways to achieve mutually desired outcomes”.
The statement goes on to say that “we believe that science and innovation will bring about more sustainable agriculture”.
Unsurprisingly, Commissioner Wojciechowski didn’t secure a commitment from Vilsack to adopt the EU farm to fork strategy as the model for US agriculture to slash reductions from US agriculture.
There is no mention of any cut to the US cattle herd which extends to 95m cattle, 10m more than the entire EU or aspiration to increase their organic output to 25% of their agricultural production.
Science and innovation led
There is little surprise that science and innovation are a central plank in any US-EU collaboration.
In the previous administration, the EU was despairingly referred to as the museum of global agriculture and the sustained EU ban on US hormone-treated beef remains a contentious issue for the US.
Ironically the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef cattle is one way of reducing emissions from livestock but this is off the agenda in any EU debate on science.
The biggest difference in the Biden and Trump administration is presentation with the Biden presidency every bit as protective of US interests as his predecessor but the communication is done in a much more diplomatic way.
Same message, different style
Secretary Vilsack is a veteran at this stage, having served in both terms of the Obama presidency and now in his third term has been proving every as much supportive of US farmers as the previous administration with record support payments to offset COVID-19 disruption.
President Biden made all the right noises at COP26 about the US leadership in emission reductions but nowhere did he make calls on the nations farmers to reduce the cattle population.
Likewise, there is no mention of the EU revisiting the production constraints in its farm to fork strategy. It will be interesting to see how the EU interpretation of science and innovation reconciles with the US in the months and years ahead.
Based on the evidence to date, despite the diplomatic language and close wider strategic interests shared by the EU and US, agriculture remains an area where they are an ocean apart.