President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has announced that a “strategic dialogue on agriculture" will be launched in January, which will seek to close the rift that has emerged between the views of farmers and other interest groups which have a say in farm policies.
The dialogue will look to find consensus between farm groups, food processors, retailers and other stakeholders, including animal welfare groups and environmentalists.
Von der Leyen stated that the exact details of which groups will take part in the strategic dialogue and which issues discussions will focus on have yet to be ironed out, when speaking to the 2023 EU agricultural outlook conference on Wednesday.
However, she did mention environmental issues, farm incomes and the competitiveness of the EU’s agri-food sector as among the areas that should be discussed.
“How can we give our farmers, and the rural communities they live in, a better perspective, including a fair standard of living?” the Commission president asked.
“How can we support agriculture within the boundaries of our planet and its ecosystem?
“How can we make better use of the immense opportunities offered by knowledge and technological innovation?
“How can we promote a bright and thriving future for Europe's food system in a competitive world?”
2023 setbacks for Commission
The move comes after Brussels experienced a year of significant pushback against its Farm to Fork and Green Deal legislation from farmer organisations and the European People’s Party (EPP) group of MEPs - the largest group in the European Parliament and von der Leyen’s own grouping.
The version of the EU nature restoration law recently agreed in talks between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers saw much more flexibility than had been originally proposed.
The Commission’s revamp of the industrial emissions directive had sought to include cattle, but this idea was dropped in trilogues.
Parliament also voted down proposals to introduce a legally-binding sustainable use of pesticides regulation which would place a legal requirement on each member state to halve 2017-2019’s pesticide usage by 2030.
All farmer views
Those participating in the talks will range from “large wheat producers” to “small traditional” farmers, von der Leyen explained.
“Now is the time to come together - farmers and food entrepreneurs, scientists and technologists, retailers and consumers, environmental organisations, and animal rights groups,” von der Leyen insisted.
She pointed to nature-based solutions to climate and biodiversity challenges as being the second half of the agricultural revolution, when addressing the conference.
Tackling environmental challenges will require work from farmers, but there are solutions to their problems, the Commission president argued, with an “abundance of good practices and new technologies” already available for roll-out.