EXPO 2015 Milano started in May and ends at the end of October. Six months. The theme has been Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. Twenty million visitors. The drafting of the Milan Charter. A celebration of Food. But this is all in Milan. What has been happening in Brussels during these six months of EXPO? This month’s What’s app contains an overview of the most significant issues relating to food and agriculture from the last six months in Brussels.

MEPs on organic farming reform

On 13 October 2015 the AGRI Committee of the EU Parliament voted on the legislative proposal on organic farming.

The Parliament vote was in relation to the 2014 Commission Proposal on organic production and labelling of organic products, 1 aiming to: i) overcome the regulatory and non-regulatory obstacles to the development of organic farming in the EU; ii) increase consumer confidence and address shortcomings in the control system and in the trade regime; iii) avoid unfair competition among producers and risks for the functioning of the internal market, because of gaps in the legislation and implementation and enforcement failures.

First, AGRI MEPs insisted that organic farming requires a specific controls regime involving the whole food chain in order to avoid food fraud. Second, they introduced new precautionary measures aiming to increase the accountability of food operators along the organic chain and avoid the risk of non-authorised techniques. Third, they adjust the Commission’s plan to abolish mixed farms on the basis that the conventional farming activities are clearly separated from the organic farming ones. Finally, MEPs supported the Commission’s proposal to ensure that imported products must comply with EU rules.

The AGRI Rapporteur will now  lead the EU Parliament’s negotiating team during the coming talks with the Council (and the Commission – the so-called ‘Trilogue meetings’) on the final draft of the new organic food rules.

‘Enjoy, it's from Europe’: a new programme promoting EU agriculture in 2016

On 13 October 2015 the Commission launched a new promotion policy that should help the agricultural sector to find new markets both outside and within the EU. €111 million from the EU budget will be now available for promoting and  supporting  the  sector,  and  an  increase  to €200 million is expected in 2019.

The EU co-financing rates will also go up from 50% to 70-80% (up to 85% for Greece and Cyprus). The 2016 programme targets a selected list of third country having the highest potential for growth in particular to the sectors experiencing a difficult market situation, like dairy and pig meat.

A key element of the new promotion policy is the establishment of an annual work programme, which identifies the priorities for promotion measures as to products, schemes and markets, and the corresponding allocated budgets. The idea is to have a dynamic and pro-active policy, adapted each year to emerging market opportunities and  the  needs of the  agricultural sector.

EU to offer to increase olive oil imports from Tunisia

On 17 September 2015 the Commission adopted a legislative proposal 2 offering additional temporary access for Tunisian olive oil to the EU market to help support Tunisia's recovery in the difficult period being faced by the country following the terrorist attack in June 2015. 

The Commission proposes to offer, until end of 2017, a unilateral annual duty-free tariff rate quota of 35,000 tonnes for Tunisia's exports of olive oil to the EU, in addition to the existing 56,700 tonnes under the EU-Tunisia Association Agreement.

In the Commission’s view, the measure has been designed taking into account its impact in the European olive oil sector. However, some sectors of the Italian olive oil industry have already criticised the Commission’s decision.

The proposal will now be transmitted to the Council and the EU Parliament for scrutiny and formal adoption before it can enter into force.

500 million comprehensive package of measures to support EU farmers

On 7 September 2015 the Commission announced a €500 million support package aiming to develop new dairy exports in Asia and thereby recognising the difficulties being experienced by EU farmers.

The main priorities of this aid package are: i) addressing the cash-flow difficulties faced by farmers; ii) addressing the functioning of the supply chain; iii) stabilising the markets; and iv) providing social assistance. The allocation of these new funds among the 28 Member States remains an open question.

This announcement has to be regarded in the context of support already provided to the agricultural sector in response to the impact of the Russian ban and the level of support that the EU provides annually to farmers and rural communities, amounting to more than €50 billion.

Safety net measures extended for the EU dairy, fruit and vegetables sectors

On 30 July 2015 the Commission stated that safety net measures for the EU dairy, fruit and vegetables sectors will be extended into 2016. Aid for the dairy sector will be continued until 26 February 2016, while aid for the fruit and vegetables sector will be prolonged until 30 July 2016. The Commission is committed to give support  EU  farmers  hit  by  the  Russian  ban  on imports of fruit, vegetables, meat poultry, fish, milk and dairy products.3

Labelling of foodstuffs must not mislead consumers

The judgement in Case C-195/14 Bundesverband der Verbraucherzentralen und Verbraucherverbände – Verbraucherzentral Bundesverband e.V. v Teekanne GmbH & Co. KG, handed down on 4 June 2015, shows the European Court of Justice (ECJ) insisting that the labelling of a foodstuff must not mislead the consumer by giving the impression that a particular ingredient is present, when it is not in fact present.

In the case at issue,4 a German company marketed a fruit tea called ‘Felix raspberry and vanilla adventure’. The packaging included depictions of raspberries and vanilla flowers and the indications ‘fruit tea with vanilla natural flavourings’ and ‘fruit tea with natural flavourings – raspberry-vanilla taste’. However, the fruit tea did not contain natural ingredients from vanilla or raspberry or flavourings obtained from them. The list of ingredients, which was placed on one side of the packaging, read: ‘Hibiscus, apple, sweet blackberry leaves, orange peel, rosehip, natural flavouring with a taste of vanilla, lemon peel, natural flavouring with a taste of raspberry, blackberries, strawberry, blueberry, elderberry’. A German consumer protection association complained that the packaging mislead consumers with regard to the tea’s contents.

The ECJ first found that EU law5 requires that consumers have right to correct, neutral and objective information that does not mislead and that the food labels cannot mislead.

The ECJ also made clear that the list of ingredients, even though correct and comprehensive, may not be capable of correcting the erroneous or misleading impression which the consumer has from the labelling of the foodstuff itself. Therefore, where the labelling of a food product gives the impression that a particular ingredient is present in the foodstuff, even though it is not in fact present (this being apparent from the list of ingredients), the label can be misleading. The correct labelling of the ingredients cannot overcome the deceptiveness of the label itself.

Public consultation on tax rules on beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages

On 28 August 2015 the Commission launched a public consultation to assess whether some of the rules on excise duty on beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages should be amended in order to fight tax fraud and reduce the sale of counterfeit alcohol. The Commission also wants to verify whether small and home producers of alcohol could benefit from simpler rules and lower excise duties.6

This consultation is part of the Better Regulation Agenda aiming to simplify EU laws, reduce regulatory costs and protect consumers. It ends on 27 November 2015.

New Rural Development Programmes

On 26 May 2015 the Commission approved a further 24 Rural Development Programmes aimed at improving the competitiveness of the EU farming sector, caring for the countryside and climate, and strengthening the economic and social fabric of rural communities in the period until 2020. Funding worth 27 billion EUR from the EU budget, co-financed by further public funding at national/regional level and/or private funds, is made available. Italy is one of the Member States concerned.