Co-ops respond to MEP votes on carbon, packaging waste and pesticides

Agricultural co-op apexes Copa and Cogeca and consumer co-op body Euro Coop had different views on some of the texts adopted

The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) adopted a series of reports on 24 October that, if adopted by the full Parliament, could lead to new roles and regulations for co-ops.

Certification framework for carbon removals

One of the texts adopted was a report on an EU certification framework for carbon removals, a move welcomed by agricultural co-operatives. Passed with 59 votes to 17 and 9 abstentions, the report was described as “a step in the right direction” by Copa and Cogeca, which represent European farmers and their co-ops. The twin apexes have lobbied the ENVI to acknowledge that carbon farming involves not just the sequestration of carbon but also emissions reductions from soil, and enteric and manure fermentation.

“In general, the approved text looks at farms or forests as a whole unit,” they said, “including activities linked to mitigation and adaptation that result in avoidances and reductions of emissions, reward additional environmental performances, and are fit to ensure the continuity of existing carbon farming schemes through a simplified process that does not generate unnecessary administrative burdens to farmers, foresters, and co-operatives.

“However, Copa and Cogeca strongly regret the obligation to generate co-benefits in many items (e.g., biodiversity and maintenance and protection of ecosystems), and the sustainability criteria, which should have not been made mandatory for farmers and foresters to obtain carbon credits. This should have been promoted rather than prescriptive.”

They added: “We also strongly regret that the Environment Committee decided to go beyond the original objectives of the Commission’s proposal to include rules relating to the use of certificates, with the potential linkages with Corporate GHG inventory reporting, emission trading systems (ETS) and a post-2030 target for carbon removals. The aim of the Certification Framework for Carbon Removals and Carbon Farming should not be to set up a framework for the use of certificates but one that enables quality certificates in the EU.”

Packaging Waste Regulation

ENVI also adopted a report on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which Copa-Cogeca says “fails to provide the necessary clarification for many agricultural sectors”. The report passed with  56 votes in favour, 23 against, and five abstentions.

ENVI wants to ban the sale of very lightweight plastic carrier bags (below 15 microns) unless required for hygiene reasons or provided as primary packaging for loose food to help prevent food wastage. The committee also wants to set specific waste-reduction targets for plastic packaging (10% by 2030, 15% by 2035 and 20% by 2040) while requesting that the plastic part in packaging contain minimum percentages of recycled content depending on the type of packaging, with specific targets set for 2030 and 2040.

Copa and Cogeca welcomed the exclusion of the wine sector from the targets and what they described as “improvements on the restrictions on packaging formats, insofar as the dairy, olive oil and fruit and vegetables sectors are concerned” when compared to the Commission’s initial proposal.

“Still,” they added, “without workable alternatives to address these important concerns on food waste and food safety, especially given the lack of evidence that such measures would be beneficial for the environment, we cannot support continued restrictions of single-use packaging for the fruit and vegetables sector and regret that such restrictions remain following today’s vote, albeit in a less extreme form. This view was clearly shared by many ENVI MEPs in today’s vote, as the compromise amendment for this provision passed with a very tight majority.

“We also regret the inclusion of the spirits sector in reuse targets, and for flowers and ornamental plants, the wording of Annex I remains unsatisfactory as it makes arbitrary distinctions between packaging and non-packaging.

“As the plenary approaches, it is essential that MEPs take into consideration the perspectives of farmers and agri-co-operatives, as well as the opinions of ITRE and AGRI Committees which were adopted in July. European farmers and agri-co-operatives need an enabling regulatory environment that facilitates their transition to a circular economy regarding packaging and packaging waste, not arbitrary restrictions.”

Pesticide Use

ENVI also voted to set binding targets to reduce pesticide use in EU member states, adopting the Sustainable Use of Pesticides regulation (SUR) with 47 votes to 37 and two abstentions.

Copa and Cogeca criticised the text, arguing it sets “unrealistic targets”.

The adopted text says the EU must reduce the use and risk of chemical plant protection products by at least 50% and the use of so-called “more hazardous products” by 65%, compared to the 2013-2017 average. The Commission proposed a 50% target for both based on the 2015-2017 average.

“All studies carried out on the European Commission’s proposal have already pointed to major production cuts, seriously impacting our strategic autonomy,” said Copa and Cogeca. “In the current agricultural, economic, and geopolitical context, this decision by the Environment Committee reveals a certain frivolity. If only the regulatory ambitions were balanced in this text by such ambitious support and accompanied by concrete and compensatory measures. Since nothing has been properly evaluated, the proposal voted by the Environment Committee falls short in this respect too.  

“We continue to be left with an approach that does not consider what has already been achieved in the past in terms of implementing practices in Integrated Pest Management, and even neglecting the idea of looking at technical solutions or alternatives.”

Ahead of the vote, Euro Coop, the European community of consumer co-ops, called on ENVI to “prioritise agroecology and pave the way for pesticide-free farming, restoring ecosystems, enhancing resilience, and tackling climate and biodiversity crises.”

Along with 75 other organisations, Euro Coop signed a joint statement calling on EU member states and MEPs to support and adopt a robust regulation for sustainable use of pesticides without further delay. The call also highlights 10 priority demands, which, the statement said, are crucial to promoting health and environmental protection.

The call for a strong SUR is urgent, as it has far-reaching implications for safeguarding the health of farmers, farmworkers, and citizens, addressing the biodiversity crisis, reducing the pollution of aquatic and other ecosystems, and supporting the necessary shift towards resilient food systems,” said Euro Coop. “The need to significantly reduce pesticide use has received strong support from the scientific community and resonates with the desires of EU citizens.”

Euro Coop also referred to a recent IPSOS poll and PAN Europe report, which suggests there is widespread public concern regarding pesticide use.

All three texts adopted by ENVI on 24 October will be debated in Parliament once the full house votes on its negotiating mandate during the second November plenary.