“No-one likes pesticides, but plants, like people, need appropriate treatments"
Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis
Pesticides, and the perception that powerful lobbies influence the Commission in support of industry, were among the concerns of an audience of farmers at a Citizens’ Dialogue in Carcassone, as well as the conflict between global trade agreements, and a push for shorter food chains in Europe.
The dialogue was held in the Aude region's Chamber of Agriculture, alongside the President of the Chamber of Commerce, and in front of an audience of local farmers and elected officials, on the topic of food safety, food waste, and food production from farm to fork.
Glyphosates still a controversial topic
The public in France is strongly against the use of pesticides in food production, and the Commission’s continued licence for the use of glyphosates is a hot issue in the country, which came up right away in the dialogue. "No-one likes pesticides,” said the Commissioner, who went on to argue “but if I could transport us all today to see the dead olive trees in Puglia, what can we do? Remember also the Irish Potato Famine, where plant diseases affected so many lives. These are terrible situations in society. I am a medical doctor, I know that we need treatments, whether it's for animals, peoples, or plants."
Organic farming and conventional farming: just different niches?
Members of the audience wanted to see more support for organic and sustainable farming practices: for example through more financial incentives to educate farmers on those practices. There was also a plea from the audience for organic farmers to be able to use land that has lain fallow for years, as a result – it was argued – of CAP incentives to do so. That land could instead be used productively for organic farming, since indeed its years fallow would allow it to be directly certified organic.
The Commissioner made his own plea not to discount conventional farming practices, arguing that both it and organic farming each have their own niche.
Short-chain farm to fork: at odds with global trade agreements?
Many members of the audience spoke of positive trends in short-chain food production, and the support this has received from all levels of government. However, some highlighted what they saw as a contradiction between, on the one hand, EU support for local food consumption, and on the other hand, EU trade agreements across the globe that facilitate imports of food from very far-off places. Some even raised their fear that this reduced food safety for consumers, and created unfair competition for European farming.
The Commissioner was quick to dispel myths: "I can guarantee this,” he asserted, “our agreements with third countries have only one idea: to have rules-based agreements. Free trade is a misnomer: it's about rules equivalence. In our bilateral agreements with third countries, they cannot just act as they wish. We have stopped the use of European certificates where necessary."
He also highlighted the gain for European farming of such agreements: “A lot of people around the world like European food. Why? Because we have high quality. Don't be afraid that we are in a weak position: look at the figures of what we export."
The event in Carcassone was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.