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Article: Food & Ag Policy Briefing 22 June

24 June 2020

The rapid increase in popularity of food delivery and e-commerce services brought on by the COVID crisis led the Pew Charitable Trusts last week to urge US authorities to step up efforts to create a framework to regulate and oversee food safety in those emerging fields.

With no regulatory framework in place to ensure the safety of food delivered through these novel food channels, it was up to companies to identify food safety risks and boost precautions, Karin Hoelzer, a Pew veterinarian, pointed out.

A new analysis from the European Investment Bank (EIB) last week looked at how the financing needs of EU farmers and agri-food businesses are supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

The EIB conducted two EU-wide surveys focusing on the access to finance of more than 7,600 farmers and 2,200 agri-food enterprises and found a financing gap within the EAFRD of between €19-46 billion for agriculture and more than €12.8 billion for the agri-food sector.

Market support measures, animal welfare, deforestation

Later in the week, the full European Parliament endorsed a set of exceptional market support measures for EU wine, fruit and vegetable producers, but refused to approve another aid proposal from the European Commission. The fate of market measures for crisis distillation and storage for wine remains uncertain and will only be decided later.

Separately, the European Parliament agreed to create a new inquiry Committee to better enforce EU rules on the protection of transported animals.

MEPs overwhelmingly approved the new initiative at the plenary session on 19 June, with 605 out of 689 parliamentarians voting in favour.

The special Committee will be tasked with investigating possible violations of EU Regulation 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport within and outside the EU, including by air, road, rail and sea.

Meanwhile, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told members of the European Parliament what they could expect when the EU executive proposes rules to reduce EU imports linked to deforestation.

"Instruments could include voluntary commitments from the industry, mandatory labelling, due diligence, certification schemes, [and] approaches similar to the EU system against illegal fishing," he told lawmakers, adding that the Commission is currently conducting the related impact assessment.

The proposal is part of the EU's 2030 biodiversity strategy, which aims to commit the bloc to protecting nature and ecosystem services. It also includes other measures such as a target to include 10% of utilised EU agricultural area under non-productive elements, as well as plans to push for similar global targets.

Front-of-pack labelling, forced labour

The European Commission was urged last week to adopt the colour-coded Nutri-Score as its mandatory, harmonised front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition label, but possibly with waivers for some products, such as traditional specialities bearing geographical indications (GIs).

Marco Settembri, Nestlé CEO for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, floated the idea of waivers from future EU mandatory labelling requirements at a June 17 online media meeting that the company called to explain the Nutri-Score system and why Nestlé wants the European Commission to adopt the colour-coded label for the EU.

Finally, back in the US, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that US Customs officials needed to communicate better with stakeholders in order to boost enforcement of forced labor violations related to imported seafood.

The report, called Forced Labor: Better Communication Could Improve Trade Enforcement Efforts Related to Seafood, was requested by House Natural Resources Committee (NRC).

"Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing has long been a concern of the [NRC]," said the committee. "In addition to the environmental harm it causes, [illegal] fishing is associated with other illicit practices, including the use of slave or forced labor and human trafficking."

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