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Food and Ag Policy Briefing: Concerns over Amazon fires, climate change and Brexit

Pesticides under fire in the US, new actions to boost hemp production

This article is powered by Agra Europe

Mass forest fires in the Amazon could have a large impact on agri-food production in Europe by exacerbating climate change and derailing the EU-Mercosur trade agreement.

Wildfires raging through vast areas of the Amazon rainforest have sparked worldwide anger and outrage over Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s failure to protect what is considered to be one of the world’s most valuable natural resources.

In reaction to these events, French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar have reiterated their warnings that they will not approve the EU’s draft trade deal with the Mercosur bloc, struck on June 28, if Brazil fails to honour its climate commitments.

However, political leaders of Germany, Spain and the UK were quick to criticise this position and have indicated that they wish to go ahead with the controversial trade deal.

Scientists fear that the loss of these large rainforest areas, which represent one of the world's largest carbon sinks, could deprive the world of a critical buffer against climate change.

Earlier last week (August 19), Italian farming association Coldiretti already sounded the alarm over climate change, arguing that it could make the extreme weather conditions that hit Italy this summer more and more common in the future.

It estimated that this will cause billions of losses to the country’s agricultural sector alone over the next decade.

As a possible way to adapt to these circumstances, Coldiretti claimed that Italian farmers are starting to grow more tropical fruits suits as bananas and mangoes, or switch to maize and wheat from more water-intensive crops like rice.

In a similar warning, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WFF) said droughts will become more and more frequent in Germany, with severe consequences for the national farming sector and food production.

These extreme weather conditions will increasingly endanger the production of potatoes, wheat and maize in the country, the prominent environmental group outlined in a report.

Brexit already affecting agri-food trade

In a speech delivered on August 21, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan slammed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his criticism of the ‘backstop’, the clause protecting the open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic in the EU-UK draft withdrawal agreement, accusing the Conservative leader of “gambling with peace.”

Hogan maintained that the EU “will not buckle” on Johnson’s demand to remove the backstop provision, calling it a “necessary, legally operative solution” to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Johnson seems firm on taking the UK out of the EU “do or die” – with or without an agreement in place.

To avoid the market chaos of a possible no-deal Brexit, British farmers are rushing to sell off their wheat and barley before the October 31 deadline, driven by fears that EU tariffs would lead to a sharp drop in prices for the grains.

As the continuing uncertainty over Brexit also puts downward pressure on EU meat prices, Irish beef farmers are now able to apply for dedicated funding to help them cope with these difficult market circumstances.

However, sector representatives believe the foreseen €100 million budget is “unlikely to be enough” to ease the financial pressures faced by the livestock producers.

Meanwhile, Coldiretti also blamed the unresolved Brexit process for a stagnation in Italy’s agri-food exports at the beginning of this year.

Glyphosate under fire in US

In the US, the Environmental Working Group (EWP) has pushed back at an assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which reaffirmed that glyphosate residues on food pose no risks to cancer or other health concerns when the herbicide is used as prescribed.

The green group suggested the agency lacks the data to support its position and has failed to adequately assess the risks to children. It also blamed the EPA for downplaying or ignoring research that links glyphosate exposure to an elevated risk of cancer as well as neurodevelopmental and reproductive harms.

The review in question underpins the EPA's plan to approve the re-registration of glyphosate on more than 100 food crops, including maize, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beet, that have been genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide.

On August 20, the EWP also filed a lawsuit against the EPA over its recent approval of the insecticide sulfoxaflor on citrus, cotton, soybeans and more than a dozen other crops, arguing that the Trump administration ignored the substance’s harm to pollinators.

Moves to facilitate hemp production

In more positive news, the EPA announced on August 21 that it is reviewing 10 applications for the use of microbial and biological pesticides on hemp.

Officials said the move reflects the widespread interest among US farmers to grow the newly legal and potentially lucrative crop.

There are currently there are no pesticides registered for hemp in the US, which has proven a headache for some growers.

Meanwhile, to improve access to loans and credit for hemp farmers and processors, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) issued interim guidance to credit unions for providing financial services to these businesses on August 19.

As the market for Cannabidiol (CBD) also booms in the UK, the country’s industry body – the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) – released a new quality charter and opened it for public consultation on August 20.

The draft text seeks to improve legal compliance in the industry and ensure companies stick to the same labelling rules.

In case you missed it….

Week ahead and updates

There will be new EU agri-food policy diary articles starting from this week, after a break in the summer period due to a lack of events taking place.

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