Covid-19: Agri food co-ops ask European Commission to preserve single market

Disruption by quarantine measures to the free movement of food around Europe could hit supplies, warn Copa-Cogeca and other industry groups

European agri food co-operatives have joined a call to protect the single market to ensure “a stable and safe food supply chain in Europe”.

Copa-Cogeca, the united voice of farmers and agri-co-ops in the EU, Food Drink Europe, which represents the food manufacturing industry, and CELCAA, the EU umbrella association representing the trade in agri-food and commodities, have issued a joint statement, in which they express concerns over the possible impact of coronavirus on the food supply chain.

“In these difficult times, we are committed to helping our communities, using our collective resources, ingenuity and the dedication of our workforce,” the statement reads. “Together we emphasise the importance of a well-functioning food supply chain to help in the fight against Covid-19 and to guarantee food security for our fellow citizens.”

It points out that agri-food businesses are experiencing increasing difficulties in their business operations due to delays and disruption at country borders. The sector is also concerned about the movement of workers, due to certain border closures and travel restrictions, as well as potential labour shortages, as staff follow national movement restrictions to mitigate the crisis.

“Given that the agri-food supply chain is highly integrated and operating across borders, any blocks of supply and workers will inevitably disrupt business,” the organisations say. “Our ability to provide food for all will depend on the preservation of the EU single market.

“We therefore urge the European Commission to work collaboratively with us and to do everything in its power – with a consistent and clear strategy – to ensure an uninterrupted flow of agricultural produce, food and drink products and packaging materials (e.g. through “green lanes”), as well as solutions to prevent and manage labour shortages, so that the food supply chain is able to function effectively.”

The sector warns that agri-food businesses will be under immense financial pressure over the coming weeks and urges the Commission to consider Europe’s 11 million farmers, 4.7 million manufacturing workers, and 294,000 food and drink businesses, including 22,000 agri co-operatives.

The statement also calls on the Commission to work with member states to monitor the potential lack of workers and the knock-on impact on production as well as the price of raw materials and transport or unfair trading practices, and to prepare contingency plans.

Agri food businesses quote the report by the European Food Safety Authority, which notes that there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus. The commission should ensure any actions it takes are science-led, adds the statement.

Given the integration of the European food and feed sector markets, a continuous and enhanced coordination at European level is essential. In this regard, we express our full support for the work already carried out by the European institutions and their emphasis on the essential role of the food supply chain,” the statement said.

Copa and Cogeca have 66 member organisations from across the EU member states, being one of the biggest lobbying organisations in Brussels.