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Food & Ag Policy Briefing: New AGRI & ENVI committee chairs, EU under fire over pesticide regs, plant-based/dairy friction

Also, dairy sector slams findings of organic milk study

In an eventful week in Brussels, a German MEP was elected chair of the influential European Parliament agriculture committee (AGRI) and a Frenchman was made chair of the food safety committee (ENVI).

Norbert Lins, of the European Peoples Party (EPP) group, is the new chair of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (AGRI) following a vote last week after the EPP, S&D, Renew Europe, Greens and GUE placed a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, refusing to vote for any of ID’s candidates for top positions.

The ID group had put forward French MEP Maxette Pirbakas, a member of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National party and a former President of the Guadeloupe branch of the French national farmers’ union (FDSEA), but she lost out on all chair and vice chair positions to Lins, Portuguese MEP Francisco Guerreiro (Greens/European Free Alliance) as first vice-chair and Romanian Daniel Buda, also an EPP member, as second vice-chair.

Farming group Copa-Cogeca welcomes the appointment of the experiences Lins, but warned him not to try to renegotiate the Commission proposals for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and to reject the recently agreed Mercosur trade deal, which they claim will cause significant damage to the EU agriculture sector.

ENVI committee

Pascal Canfin, meanwhile, an ecologist and Renew Europe MEP, is the new chair of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) for the next two and a half years.

ENVI will become the largest committee in the Parliament with 74 members, and he argued it is a sign that it is paying close attention to important issues such as climate change and biodiversity.

In his opening address to the group, Canfin also pledged to “be very, very careful” about not splitting people into Western Europe and Eastern Europe as when it comes to the transition to a carbon neutral continent by 2050, “we have different starting points,” but should all end in the same place.

When it came to other positions, Dutch Green Bas Eickhout was elected first vice chair, and British Socialist and Democrats (S&D) member Seb Dance second vice chair, both unopposed by acclamation (a round of applause).

However, when it came to third vice chair the centre right European People’s Party (EPP) candidate, the Romanian Cristian-Silviu Buşoi faced a runoff against Croatian independent, Ivan Vilibor Sinčič. Sinčič, the 28-year-old President of Živi Zid (living wall or human shield), a populist anti-eviction party, ended up with 15 votes, against Buşoi’s 58, with one abstention.

Anja Hazekamp, from the Dutch animal rights party, who sits with the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), was elected as fourth vice chair.

The Committee will holds its first full meeting on July 22.

EU criticised over pesticide regs

The EU came under fire at a meeting of the World Trade Organization’s Goods Council last week over its approach to pesticide regulations.

The previous week, 16 WTO members circulated a statement alleging that the bloc is moving away from international standards and science-based risk assessments in its regulation of pesticides. But on the day of the meeting, some 100 members called on the EU to consider changes to its regulatory approach.

Some of the goods affected by lowered EU pesticide residue thresholds include bananas, wheat, coffee, papaya, grapes, tree nuts, coconut, sweet potatoes, mangoes and palm oil, members noted.

Ag production and trade could see "severe impacts" from the EU approach, the US warned. Those impacts could disproportionately affect South and Central America and Sub Saharan Africa, it noted.

The 79-member African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of countries echoed the US assessment, saying the EU's adoption of "arbitrary" pesticide measures will negatively impact least-developed nations and runs counter to the principle of encouraging development though trade.

Only a limited set of substances are classified as hazards requiring zero exposure, the EU said in response to the criticisms. For those substances, any exposure is unacceptable, it argued.

Even in a hazard-based, zero-tolerance situation, the EU noted that requests for import tolerances would still be handled through a process that includes a full risk assessment for the substance in question.

Plant-based/dairy sector friction

In Washington D.C., plant-based foods advocates clashed with meat and dairy champions at the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) on Thursday (July 11), when nearly 80 speakers presented views on what the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) should look like.

While dozens of plant-based champions urged the committee to change its longstanding approach and recommend adoption of plant-based diets because of their health benefits, traditional meat and dairy advocates insisted the committee’s current recommendations on meat and dairy continues to best serve consumer nutrition needs.

Speaking at the second day of the DGAC’s second of five public meetings on the 2020-2025 DGA, groups such as the Good Food Institute, the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Coalition of Healthy School Foods and the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine argued the time has come for the guidelines to acknowledge the increased variety of plant-based foods can make it easier for all consumers to shift to diets that focus on plant-based, rather than animal proteins.

But meat and dairy advocates argued that animal-based products have benefits that cannot be replaced by plant-based alternatives.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), for instance, argued that traditional dairy provides an array of essential nutrients and should therefore be kept as a separate category in the guidelines.

“Dairy foods are nutrient-rich products and irreplaceable in the diet if we want to meet the DGA- recommended nutrient requirements,” said Miquela Hanselman, who spoke on behalf of NMPF.

Casey Gallimore, the North American Meat Institute's (NAMI) director for regulatory and scientific affairs, said meat, poultry and fish are important and nutrient-dense sources of protein, essential amino acids and iron that should remain an important component of a healthy diet.

“Per serving, meat, poultry and fish provide more protein than dairy, legumes, cereals or nuts,” she said.

Organic milk study

Meanwhile, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and other dairy industry groups are poking holes in a new, organic industry-funded study that found residues of pesticides and antibiotics in conventional milk compared to organic that in some cases exceeded federal tolerance limits.

The study, which was published on June 26 in the Public Health Nutrition Journal, was conducted by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. Aiming to compare the presence of antibiotics, pesticides and hormones in conventional versus organic milk, the study was funded by the Washington, D.C.- based Organic Center.

The study found antibiotic residues in 60% of conventional milk samples, including traces of sulfamethazine in 37% of samples and sulfathiazole in 26% of samples.

It also found residues of chlorpyrifos, atrazine, permethrin and other pesticides in 26% to 60% of the conventional milk samples, while none of the organic samples contained such chemicals. Chlorpyrifos alone showed up in 59% of the conventional milk samples.

Finally, researchers found 20 times higher levels of bovine growth hormone (bGH) residue in conventional milk, which the study said indicated the use of synthetic growth hormones.

However, the study has drawn the ire of the dairy industry lobby, which is questioning the research methods and sampling and says the findings of the study are “so far out of line with federal government data that they seem implausible.”

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