Agribusiness lobby against EU Farm to Fork strategy amplified by Ukraine war
The pesticide industry lobby group CropLife Europe (CLE) and their allies have staged an immense and well-resourced lobby campaign against the flagship-policy of the EU: the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategy (both pillars of the EU Green Deal). On behalf of agrochemical multinationals, CropLife organised a fierce attack on the EU's ambition to protect ecosystems and public health by reducing pesticide risk and use by 50% by 2030 (1).
Brussels-based lobby watchdog Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) uncovers the toxic lobby strategies in a comprehensive report 'A loud lobby for a silent spring: the pesticide industry's toxic lobbying tactics against Farm to Fork'(2).
The well-timed report is based on internal documents (obtained via Freedom of Information requests) from the European Commission, as well as a leaked, internal Croplife Europe social media strategy document, providing concrete evidence of the true objectives of this lobby group and its members, billion-euro pesticide corporations such as Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, and Corteva.
On 23 March the European Commission is expected to publish a revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD), the first legislative proposal to put a Farm to Fork-target into EU law (3). The current SUD already intended to vastly limit pesticide use, however EU Member States completely failed to implement it. Meanwhile evidence of the link between the use of pesticides and a decline in biodiversity and human health impacts has only piled up (4). In response to the looming pesticide reduction target, the industry is waging a fierce lobby campaign.
The leaked CropLife-strategy confirms that while the pesticide industry makes hollow statements about its support for the EU Green Deal, in reality Croplife Europe's overall mission is to "Protect and extend members' freedom to operate", and therefore has as a key objective: "no mandatory, uniform targets across EU countries".
CEO identifies three main clusters of lobby tactics:
- Buying convenient 'studies' to scaremonger politicians. There is a wealth of scientific evidence that shows the deep impact of widespread pesticide use and so the industry needs its own scientific studies to counter. Whereas EC co-president Frans Timmermans declared that for the Farm to Fork ambitions "science is on our side", one of the tactics of the pesticide lobby is to buy convenient but partial 'impact studies' from universities, showing the "disastrous economic impact on the agricultural sector of the Farm to Fork". Then set up a series of corporate-sponsored media events, to amplify the message and build "surround sound" for them.
- Play it geopolitical to put international pressure on the EU. A US-government-led alliance attacking the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and promoting industrial agriculture as 'sustainable', includes Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta and its lobby group Croplife International. This shows that, contrary to their spin in Europe, these corporations clearly do not support the EU Green Deal. They also mobilized governments of third countries to pressure the EU on pesticide standards (eg pesticide residues in food imports) and limit the ambtitions of the EU's so called 'green diplomacy' efforts.
- Show that you are part of the solution. Whilst only 4 groups (Syngenta-ChemChina, Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, and Corteva) make up 66% of world sales (5), this highly concentrated sector needs to protect their business and at the same time convince EU-legislators they agree with the Green Deal's ambitions. Some of the tactics used to reconcile these two are voluntary commitments, or to propose false solutions such as new digital technologies and deregulated new GM-techniques, which fits with their new business model.
Nina Holland, researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory said:
"The pesticide industry is clearly in survival mode, using deceptive tactics, like scaremongering European politicians with industry-sponsored research or creating international pressure by participating in a US-government-led alliance of countries and industries attacking the EU Green Deal."
"It is very cynical that EU-politicians (6) are increasingly joining the attack on the EU Farm to Fork targets by using the Ukraine war and looming food crisis as an argument. The war shows precisely the urgency to make food production less dependent on fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers. If they are truly concerned about food security, they would be trying hard to address the unsustainable levels of meat-production and massive imports of animal feed, for instance. It is high time that European institutions and politicians change gear and stop defending corporate interests and do what they are supposed to: protect the general interest."
Notes to the editors:
- 1. These multinationals pretend to embrace the EU's new green ambitions. However, they are up in arms to defend their business, despite the huge socio-economic, health, and ecological impacts of their products. See the recent study 'Pesticides: a model that's costing us dearly' – Le Basic.
2. US scientist Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring in 1962, which brought to the world's attention the harms that pesticides such as DDT were wreaking on ecosystems. Her warnings were met with fierce criticism and resistance by the pesticides industry. Chemical giants like Monsanto predicted her recommendations would bring about a world of famine and disease. Sixty years later, as the European Union's long-awaited proposal to vastly reduce the use of pesticides is about to be published, the lobby is once again mobilising and even includes some of the same companies and tactics.
3. All eyes are on the European Commission to publish a revised Sustainable Use of Pesticides law on 23 March, that will include a pesticide reduction target. Will it have the political courage to go beyond a 50% reduction of pesticides, to make the target enforceable, and to support farmers in this process? When the proposal is published, it will be discussed in the European Parliament. While the Parliament's Farm to Fork opinion of October 2021 supported a 50% reduction target, the leadership of its agriculture committee has already joined the chorus of lobby groups using the war in Ukraine as an opportunistic excuse to abandon the EU Farm to Fork goals. It will also be hotly debated by the EU national governments in the Council, largely beyond public scrutiny.
4. The European Environmental Bureau and 70+ other organisations, have issued a joint statement on their concerns about the lack of ambition in the proposal on the "Sustainable Use of Plant Protection Products" that the European Commission is planning to launch on 23 March: Joint Statement on the Revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (eeb.org)
5. The massive lobby campaign is to protect the interests of a billion Euro pesticide-business. Global sales of pesticides have doubled in the last 20 years and the world market (estimated value: €53 billion), is in the hands of a few multinational corporations (partly controlled by a set of 5 US Investment funds and the Chinese State). According to US scholars Howard and Hendrickson up to 66% of the world sales of agrochemicals are in the hand of just four multinationals, whereas three of the same companies control half of global trade in seeds.
6. A Press Release from COPA COGECA - https://twitter.com/COPACOGECA/status/1500514117815353348?cxt=HHwWiIC-zfvo8tIpAAAA ; PR from FNSEA (FR) released on the day of the AGRIFISH Council - https://twitter.com/FNSEA/status/1499087421467762691?s=20&t=Mk3l8p7gRL5LIKtsvlSBgw ; on BASF: https://www.brusselstimes.com/209443/the-farm-to-fork-strategy-two-years-later-setting-the-right-policy-direction-in-times-of-change ; Deutsche BauernVerband (DBV) Rukwied https://www.presseportal.de/pm/58964/5157042 and EU farmers demand ability to produce more in time of Ukraine crisis | 2022-03-08 | Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc. Other examples: on French Agriculture minister Julien Denormandie Farm lobby uses Russia-Ukraine war to attack the European Green Deal (birdlife.org); French MP, close to Denormandie: https://twitter.com/FNSEA/status/1498619822485221377?s=20&t=Mk3l8p7gRL5LIKtsvlSBgw and EPP calls for further postponement of Farm to Fork strategy – EURACTIV.com.