Talks to continue on EU legislation for fairness in the food chain
Proposals to reduce the dominance of retailers and large processors in the agri-food industry will take some more "weeks" to be finalised.

The latest round of discussions between the European Parliament, Council and Commission ended on Thursday night witout agreement on proposed EU legislation to tackle unfair trading practices in agriculture and food markets.

"We are committed to cutting the unfair [trading practices] but, at the same time, we want an ambitious new law that will ensure the highest possible level of protection for our farmers and thus safeguard the long-term sustainability of agri-food communities," said MEP Paolo De Castro, the Parliament's lead negotiator on this issue.

“We still have time and we will invest the upcoming weeks into achieving the best quality result that our farmers, food producers and consumers deserve.”

Deadline

The trialogue between European institutions to agree the text began on 25 October, with a Christmas deadline if legislation is to be passed before EU elections next May.

The Commission's proposal would outlaw some practices including late payments and cancellations of orders, but has been criticised for failing to introduce an outright ban on below-cost selling and full transparency on pricing along the food chain.

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Split views on unfair trading practices legislation

EU 2030 outlook good for dairy, poultry and protein crops, bad for beef
The European Commission is holding its annual agricultural outlook conference in Brussels and has published market forecasts for the next decade.

The European Commission has issued a stark warning to beef farmers in its agricultural market outlook until 2030.

Following growth in the past three years, "production is expected to decrease again, influenced by the shrinking cow herd, low profitability, declining beef demand and strong export competition despite the opening of niche markets", the EU forecasts.

The Commission expects beef prices to fall in the next few years, before stabilising until 2030.

EU consumers are forecast to continue switching to poultry, which should see production expand by 4% over the next 12 years, with exports also growing.

Sheep markets are expected to "recover slightly" with improved returns for producers. Declining pigmeat consumption in the EU should be balanced with export growth.

Pasture-based dairy growth

Growing population, especially in Africa, will drive demand for dairy products. Meanwhile, EU consumers will continue to eat more cheese and differentiated products, with "pasture-based" identified as one of the growth categories.

The Commission forecasts a 0.8% annual increase in EU milk production over the next decade, largely thanks to growing yields.

"However, this will be at a slower pace than in the past decade, given environmental constraints and the extensification of production in response to consumer expectations," it warned.

Stable grain prices

The most significant change on tillage farms will be the development of local feed and protein crops, according to the forecast: "Strong demand both for feed purposes and for human consumption, as well as the supportive policy environment, will further drive production growth of soya beans and protein crops."

However, this will remain a small part of the sector. Cereals and oilseeds are seen to remain stable over the next decade, with base grain prices close to €170/t.

Overall farm incomes are forecast to remain static as a 17% increase in farmgate prices will be absorbed by a similar rise in production costs.

Healy represents farmers at EU food chain fairness forum
A new EU group brings together actors of agri-food markets to tackle unfair trading practices, with the IFA representing European farmers.

IFA president Joe Healy attended his first meeting of the EU high-level forum for a better functioning of the food supply chain in Brussels on Wednesday.

The EU-wide farm organisation COPA appointed Healy to represent farmers on the forum, alongside processors, traders, retailers and NGOs.

European Commissioner for Internal Market Elzbieta Bienkowska and member state representatives also take part in the forum, as proposed legislation to outlaw unfair trading practices in agri-food markets is currently before EU institutions.

"Many retailers are behaving like modern-day dictatorships, abusing their power to accumulate vast profits. The current situation, where processors and retailers make a margin, with farmers forced to produce at or below the cost of production, is unacceptable,” said Healy.

Although not currently covered by proposed legislation, he added that market transparency and price reporting across the food supply chain should be a priority and called on the forum to deliver fairness for all, including producers.

Read more

MEPs vote to ‘arm the weakest in the supply chain’

UTP legislation getting closer

Watch: 'Brexit weariness' creeping in, 'huge opportunity' in renewables – Kelly
Irish MEP Sean Kelly thinks a Brexit deal will be achieved and provides an update on the latest EU developments on climate change and renewable energy.

Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly was confident a Brexit deal could be achieved ahead of an EU summit to give the green light to the withdrawal agreement with the UK from the European side this Sunday.

MEP Kelly said he expected all EU member states to approve this initial agreement.

He also thinks UK prime minister Theresa May will secure backing for the deal in the British parliament in the coming weeks.

The debate will be in terms of "this is the plan, have you a better one", he said.

If the UK needs an extension past the 29 March deadline to approve the deal, MEP Kelly said the EU might agree to that, "but only if they thought there could be something to be gained from it".

"There is Brexit weariness creeping in here," he added.

"It has occupied so much time and energy and there has been so little give in the general public in the UK, especially in the media and the Brexiteers."

As the EU makes new subsidised loans available for investment projects, especially in the climate change area, Kelly said farming bodies, businesses and government organisations will be eligible for the funding.

He was also involved in negotiations on the recently passed renewable energy directive and said it represented a "huge opportunity" for farmers and communities, who will now have the right to produce their own renewable electricity.

Even if you were to cut emissions from agriculture to zero, it would have very little effect when you have transport growing and growing

He warned against singling out agriculture when targeting cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as oil heating continues to be the most popular choice for new buildings and road transport is on the increase.

"Even if you were to cut emissions from agriculture to zero, it would have very little effect when you have transport growing and growing," he said.

Meanwhile, "the food would be produced in third countries where emissions are worse".

Climate plan

Yet Ireland needs to do more and is due to submit a detailed climate plan by the end of this year to the EU, which will check if it meets our obligations against the Paris climate agreement. "If not, it will be sent back," he warned.

Sean Kelly spoke with markets specialist Phelim O'Neill in Brussels this week. Read more about the renewable energy directive in next week's Irish Farmers Journal.