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Article: Food and Ag Policy Briefing - 1 June

01 June 2020

This article is taken from the IEG Policy Platform dated 1/06/20.

US, Europe seek better protection for farm workers, World Bank acts on locust swarms, glyphosate lawsuit rejected. Also, the US FDA is called upon to lift restrictions on safety inspections, EU Commission is challenged on Farm to Fork Strategy and drought has cut yield expectations in Europe.

Dutch meat company Vion called on health authorities last week to roll out wider COVID-19 testing of meat workers after having to suspend slaughter operations at a plant close to the border with Germany.

Vion said 600 workers would be quarantining at home for two weeks - obliging it to move meat production to other meat plants in the Netherlands.

Across the EU, lawmakers were calling for governments to step up their actions to ensure the health and safety of seasonal workers in Europe to salvage the harvests.

Members of the European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) discussed how safe conditions for cross-border workers could be ensured in the EU for those carrying out vital agricultural labour. MEPs from all political groups expressed deep concerns about recent reports on the precarious conditions and lack of COVID-19 prevention measures for seasonal workers across the bloc.

Similarly in the US, a coalition of 72 House members urged congressional leaders to ensure USDA used funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to help protect farmworkers from COVID-19.

With lockdown orders lifting and state agencies bringing back staff in the US, the FDA was called upon to green-light produce safety inspections, especially as some commodities have such a limited growing season.

The FDA abruptly postponed foreign inspections as the pandemic unfolded in March, then extended the rollback to routine domestic inspections in hopes of keeping the FDA and FDA-contracted state staff safe from the disease. On May 11, FDA announced it was working on a plan to resume routine facility inspections, although no details were disclosed. The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) urged the FDA to push the process on.

Glyphosate ruling

Also in the US, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a class action that alleged General Mills was deceiving consumers by failing to disclose the potential presence of glyphosate in its popular Cheerios cereals. The plaintiff could only show a "hypothetical injury" from her claims, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals concluded.

In Europe, members of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture (AGRI) have challenged the Commission on how its new plan to shape sustainable agri-food chains will be implemented on the ground without knowing what the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will look like.

The F2F strategy has proposed 27 measures to realise more sustainable agri-food chains, including aspirational targets like a 50% reduction in the use and risk of chemical and hazardous pesticides as well as bringing 25% of EU agricultural land under organic farming.

Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, EPP's AGRI coordinator, said that the Commission's measures make it look more like a "farm strategy" than a "fork strategy", adding that the EU executive is putting too much political pressure on the agricultural sector.

After, two months of unusually hot and dry weather across Europe, yield forecasts for the 2020 harvest of nearly all EU crops have been reduced. The average yield for wheat is expected to go down by 4.7% from 2019 (to 5.5 tonnes/hectare) and by 5.4% for barley (to 4.72 t/ha), while rapeseed would even fall 0.4% below last year's disaster crop.

Some parts of Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia were suffering severe crop loss after having to cope with a plague of locusts. The World Bank has released funds to support households affected by the swarms.

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