In recent weeks, across Europe and even in Portugal, some confederations and organizations in the agricultural sector, along with some personalities, have publicly expressed their concerns about the challenge facing EU food security, supporting urgent measures in the short and medium term. term. The arguments used to justify environmental violations are not new, presenting environmental commitments as an obstacle, not to economic development, but to the mitigation of the economic and social crisis we are already facing.
Most importantly, these concerns have manifested themselves through pressure on European governments to dilute their respective environmental and climate objectives assumed in various EU instruments (such as the Prado ao Prato Strategy and the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030, resulting from the Pact European ecological) and national (Common Agricultural Policy Strategic Plans) as regards the agri-food sector – at the service of the interests of a part of the sector and of the poor consumers and small farmers.
This narrative begins to have practical effects: authorizations have already been granted to several countries, including Portugal, for the use of areas important to nature and biodiversity for agricultural production (previously banned from agricultural practice). At the same time, the appeal that has been launched for the non-integration of the objectives of the European Ecological Pact (EEP) within the Strategic Plans of the CAP (PEPAC), if successful, will mean, for example, the withdrawal of the commitment of the agro-industrial sector to increase the production of organic food by 25% or reduce the use of pesticides by up to 50%. The postponement of the EU nature restoration law and the framework directive on the sustainable use of pesticides are also already a consequence of the pressure that is being felt.
It is therefore important to demystify 4 ideas that we will hear repeated over and over again, but which will no longer be true for this reason:
1. “War puts our food security at risk”.
Contrary to what this idea seems to suggest, the cereals we import from countries involved in the conflict are widely used for the production of feed or biofuels – ⅔ of the imported cereals are destined for livestock feed. One of the potential causes of food insecurity for Europeans is the excessive consumption of food of animal origin, in addition to the well-known health and environmental problems.
Indeed, one of the ways to make our food system more autonomous, resilient and sustainable, while also safeguarding the health of Europeans, would be to reduce the consumption of food of animal origin and encourage forms of animal production that are less dependent on feed and fertilizers.
2. “Climate change cannot be a priority”.
The enormous environmental challenges we face did not begin with this conflict, and its effects are not only lasting, but will not be suspended pending the resolution of the challenges that arise in the meantime. Quite the contrary: the longer we take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the faster these effects will worsen, jeopardizing the opportunities to address them. The latest IPCC report warns that the risks are greater than initially anticipated, with some adverse effects occurring at lower-than-expected levels of global warming. One of the worrying conclusions of the report is that with climate change it becomes increasingly difficult to satisfy human needs for calories and proteins, with losses not only in productivity but also in nutrients present in a large group of plants.
Therefore, it is important (and urgent) to rethink PEPAC so that it can contribute positively to the promotion of biodiversity, to the mitigation and adaptation to climate change and the good state of water and soil resources, as well as to the development of rural communities in a way that inclusive.
3. “Exceptional measures are needed due to circumstances”.
All the arguments seem valid for not respecting the environmental commitments signed by the European Commission. During the negotiation period of the PEPAC, similar to what happened previously in other reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy, there have been numerous pressures and compromises in attempts to weaken the environmental and climate objectives and targets of this plan. It should be noted that NGOs, civil society and national environmental authorities have been completely ignored in the process of building this PEPAC – and we fear this record will persist into the future. An important part of the funding for the Natura 2000 network comes from the CAP and if the measures to apply these funds are designed without the involvement of the ICNF (responsible for the Natura 2000 network), they will hardly fulfill their function.
4. “The postponement of the objectives of the European Green Deal is absolutely necessary”.
Maria do Céu Antunes, then Minister of Agriculture, defended in March at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council the postponement of the achievement of the EEP targets for an uncertain future but decided, on the same day, to support Austria’s proposal to encourage the potential of plants proteins in line with the objectives of the same PEE. However, this proposal does not explicitly refer to the human consumption of these proteins, which could mean that it seeks only to encourage their use for feed production and not to contribute to a healthier and more sustainable diet for Europeans and consequently , contribute to greater resilience to future shocks. Compliance with the PEE, or its Do Prado ao Prato Strategy, is absolutely necessary, starting with the promotion of a greater availability of vegetable protein alternatives for human consumption.
Agri-food production has contributed to the environmental crisis we are experiencing: globally, the way we eat is responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of fresh water use, about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions , the degradation of 52% of agricultural land and 70% of the loss of terrestrial biodiversity. To deny it is to reject reality and it has a useless effect as it does not solve any of these problems and does not recognize the enormous potential that agri-food production has to have a positive impact on our health and that of our planet as long as a transformation takes place. of the production system aimed at people and the planet. On this point, the scientific community has been clear on the need to guarantee enough food for the world population, and at the same time transform the way we produce and consume this food: the degradation of nature and climate directly affects our food production capacity. since the combined effects of biodiversity loss and global warming reduce yields and nutrient density.
So, more important than spreading not always rigorous ideas about possible food shortages, it is urgent to rethink our priorities: do we (once again) want to question the resilience of our food systems in the medium to long term and contribute to the destruction of nature? Aren’t we ignoring the fact that, at least in part, these market disruptions are a consequence of the lack of that same resilience? Building and defending a resilient food system that respects the limits of our planet must be everyone’s priority, now and in the future.