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Healthy Package …

  • June 13th, 2007
  • Posted by EUEditor

fruit-resize-1501.jpgEuropean Union Agriculture Ministers have approved the package of changes for the fruit and vegetable industry put forward by the European Commission – as part of a general agricultural reform.

Some parts of the package have been contested in industry and political circles.

PACKAGE BECOMES LAW

That completes a legislative process following approval by the European Commission in January and the European Parliament last week (7.6.07).

The chief advocate of the changes, the Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said the Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetable products would conform more closely with the restructured Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Farm subsidies under the CAP were being decoupled from production levels, and instead a system of direct payments would be awarded to producers acting in compliance with prescribed standards of management and sustainability.

The changes in the fruit and vegetable area aimed to encourage more growers to join Producer Organisations (POs); offer the POs a wider range of tools for crisis management; integrate the fruit and vegetable sector into the EU’s Single Payment Scheme; require a minimum level of spending on environmental measures; increase EU funding of organic production and promotional measures — and abolish export subsidies for fruit and vegetables.

Those changes would enter into force in 2008.

SEEN AS A REFORM

“The old-fashioned production-linked payments will be replaced with decoupled payments” Mrs Fischer Boel said.

“There will be incentives for producers to club together and thus become stronger.

“We have also introduced a number of measures to boost consumption, and will now propose a fruit and vegetable scheme for schools based on a detailed impact assessment.”

She said the new regime for fruit and vegetables was a reform that would improve the competitiveness and market orientation of the sector, reduce income fluctuations resulting from crises, promote consumption, with positive impacts on public health, and enhance environmental protection.

POLITICAL LOBBIES

Members of the European Parliament from fruit and vegetable growing areas demanded concessions, notably to make arrangements more “flexibility” for different commodities.

They were told some compromises could be built into the plan, for example a one-year delay in removing a per-hectare subsidy for tomato production, where there were fears that processing would lose out to market production.

Processors including canners, freezing plants and pickle-makers had told MEPs they could be facing higher costs because growers would have the option of getting better proceeds for fresh product.

Some Members sought to retain partial subsidies, to sustain co-production of different commodities on farms, predicting a rush to go for the most lucrative products under the new regime.

Eastern European representatives wanted guarantees that producers would not miss out because of their present low level of participation in grower organisations; they were down to 1% membership in most places, since the abolition of agricultural cooperatives that had existed under the communist system.

IN BRUSSELS, the European Commission answered complaints that part of the new regime would undermine consumer confidence in organic products labelled free of genetically modified organisms (GMO), because of a tolerance level of up to 0.9% GMO.

The provision was opposed by the Italian government and by consumer and industry organisations, mostly in Italy, with claims that sale of GMO-free products could fall by 60%.

A Commission spokesperson said the the 60% figure was in doubt; there had been wide public consultation; the rule on GMO had been adjusted to bring in more consistency; it would actually close a loophole that could have permitted product with more than 1% content to be marketed as GMO-free; and the alterations were approved by a Europe-wide umbrella body for organic producers.

“I think this will improve the situation, not make it worse,” the spokesperson said.

IMPACTS OF INDUSTRY

The new fruit and vegetable regime has been described as budget neutral; ending of subsidies would be matched by creation of new funds, e.g. for crisis management and promotion.

Allocations so far are €8-million (A$ 12.7-million; dcerates.com, 13.6.07) to assist Producer Organisations, and €6-million (A$9.5-million) to help them with promotional distributions of fruit and vegetables to schools, hospitals, retirement homes and other institutions.

Feasibility work is being done on a larger project for distributing fruit at primary schools, to be co-funded by the EU and industry.

Fruit and vegetables take up 3.1% of the European Commission budget, and account for 17% of overall EU production. The EU is the third-largest producer in the world (8.3%), after India and China. France, Italy and Spain are its leading production areas.

Reference:

European Commission; “CAP Reform: Fruit and vegetable reform …”, IP/07/810 12.6.07

Jess Halliday, “Council to vote on fruit and vegetable reform compromise”, Food Navigator Europe, http:www.foodnavigator.com (13.6.07)

European Parliament Press Service, “How can the fruit and vegetable sector be made more competitive?”, http://www.europarl.eu/news… (13.6.07)

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