Cheese 2019: New European Green Goals Give Hope for Bees and Pollinators

With the new European Commission promising to implement a European Green Deal, the expectations are high for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform to truly address the needs of the environment. The Green Deal should include biodiversity protection strategy and the reduction of the use of pesticides – vital steps to stop the decline of pollinators. On September 21, the second day of the Cheese Festival in Bra, speakers from the European Commission and several European non-governmental organizations discussed how the CAP reform fits into the narrative around the protection of the environment, biodiversity, and sustainable food systems.

Over 75% of cultivated food which ends up on our tables depends on pollination. The recent FAO report on biodiversity has shown significant declines in the number of birds and insects, particularly bees and other pollinators, naming pesticides and intensive farming, which are subsidized by the CAP, as the main drivers. 

“Within the CAP, right now we have 400,000 tons of active substances sprayed on Europe’s fields each year. There was a proposal to integrate the concept of sustainable use of pesticides into the CAP, but it has never been implemented. The result is that Member States have no targets, farmers are not really asked to make a change, and therefore, there are no financial penalties in case of non-compliance,” said Henriette Christensen, from PAN-Europe. 

She emphasized that with the CAP reform, Member States will have to set targets, but they are not intended to be quantitative. “With this CAP Reform, the EU is losing the ability to monitor its Member States. What the CAP needs is to have real quantitative and clear targets.”

Francesco Panella, president of BeeLife, noted that European agriculture has undergone a “pragmatic revolution” based on yield per hectare. 

“As a result, we have destroyed the concept of agriculture, favoring monocultures and chemicals. We have reached a level of “substance-dependence” – that is what we do in farming today. We need to have green policies that are truly green in practice, not only in words.”

Meanwhile, Alberto Contessi from the National Honey Observatory described one of the proposals put forward by the Observatory in Italy. Instead of giving support to the largest users of pesticides, the organization is asking the Italian government to provide funding to farmers who approach their farming activities in a bee-friendly way: by not using harmful pesticides or planting plants beneficial to pollinators.  

Although the current CAP reform proposal is criticized for not being environmentally ambitious enough, new Commission President-Elect Ursula von der Leyen gives hope that environmental issues will genuinely be put at the top of the agenda. The President-elect has already asked the Commissioner-designated for Health to work on “reducing dependency on pesticides and stimulating the take-up of low-risk and non-chemical alternatives.”

“The CAP as the oldest policy in the EU has evolved over the years; for instance, it started to take environmental goals into account in the -90s. Now, the CAP post-2020 will have to be compatible with the Green Deal. The CAP will have indicators, both of results and impact to be able to monitor the progress in certain areas, and pollinators are present in these indicators,” noted Fabien Santini from the DG AGRI, European Commission. 

The 12th edition of Cheese is dedicated to raw milk cheeses and artisanal dairy products. Cheese 2019 also sheds light on nitrite- and nitrate-free charcuterie and sourdough breads. The event will host an Italian and international market with over 300 exhibitors. The international biennial event is organized by the City of Bra and Slow Food with the support of the Piedmont Region.

Indre Anskaityte, Slow Food Europe

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