Voluntary environmental standards at risk

In the negotiations on the EU directive "Unfair Trading Practices" some members of the EU Parliament want to weaken voluntary environmental and animal welfare standards. The partners of the LIFE Food & Biodiversity project warn of the consequences. Voluntary standards and procurement requirements are indispensable for sustainable food production, as legal requirements are not sufficient to solve urgent ecological and social problems.

Conservative members of the EU Parliament want to use the planned EU directive on so-called "Unfair Trading Practices" (COM(2018)0173) to massively restrict voluntary environmental and animal welfare standards. The aim of the planned EU directive is to strengthen the position of farmers towards large retail chains and to prevent unfair practices such as price fixing and price dumping. This aim is clearly supported by the environmental organisations in the project LIFE Food & Biodiversity. The price wars that take place in the European food trade – e.g. for milk and for tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples – are at the expense of farmers or small farmers and plantation workers in developing countries. "Fair wages and responsible working conditions, measures to protect water, soil and climate and to preserve biodiversity are simply not possible at low purchase prices," says Marion Hammerl, President of the Global Nature Fund (GNF).
Members of CSU and CDU in the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development are trying to weaken regulations on environmental and animal welfare standards that go beyond the legal level by means of an amendment to the new directive. Should this proposal be included in the final directive, then voluntary standards of national retail chains such as REWE or Kaufland on species-appropriate husbandry or on the reduction of pesticides would be banned as unfair trading practices.
Ambitious standards procurement guidelines are indispensable
Standards and procurement requirements for a more sustainable food production are indispensable as long as the legal requirements are not sufficiently strict to solve the urgent social grievances, the devastating conditions in animal husbandry and the dramatic environmental problems, e.g. groundwater pollution by nitrate, loss of soil fertility and biological diversity. GNF, Lake Constance Foundation and other partner organisations of the project LIFE Food & Biodiversity emphasise that standards and companies with requirements that go beyond the legal requirements largely take on tasks that should actually be fulfilled by legislation. "The legal requirements sometimes lag drastically behind when it comes to social responsibility, animal welfare, environmental protection and nature conservation. It is unfair competition if food is produced at the expense of farmers and the environment. Sustainable products should not be the exception, but the norm," says Hammerl.
Within the framework of the LIFE Food & Biodiversity project, environmental organisations, scientific institutions, food standards and companies from the food industry are working together to further develop existing standards and procurement specifications of food companies. The "Recommendations to improve biodiversity protection" have now been adopted by more than 40 standards and companies and are taken into account in audits and in the training of agricultural consultants, certifiers, product- and quality managers. In the position paper "How to reinforce biodiversity performance in the future Common Agricultural Policy", the organisations formulate proposals on how the protection of biological diversity should be anchored in future EU agricultural policy. Here, too, the importance of demanding standards and initiatives for the further development of food production in Europe towards sustainability is underlined.
"In the negotiations on the EU Directive COM(2018)0173, the Agriculture Ministers of the EU Member States in particular are now called upon to prevent this proposal. Sustainable agriculture needs ambitious environmental and animal welfare standards that have so far been promoted by voluntary initiatives," concluded Hammerl.
The Europe-wide project "Biodiversity in standards and labels for the food industry" is aimed at standard organisations and companies with their own requirements for producers and suppliers. The aim is to improve the protection of biodiversity in the food industry. The project is funded by the EU LIFE Programme and the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU) and is recognised as a core initiative of the UN Sustainable Food Systems Programme.

Radolfzell, 31 October 2018