European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
Europe, land of opportunity for the meat sector
World Meat Congress/Paris
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should first of all like to thank you for inviting me to speak at this international conference. I will take advantage of this opportunity to voice both Europe’s concerns about the meat sector and its vision for the future.
I should, in particular, like to thank Joseph Daul, with whom it is always a pleasure to discuss livestock farming, the future of the industry and the future of our livestock farmers and our farmers in general.
I can assure you that the livestock-farming sector is high on our agenda, and not just in the context of discussions on the future of the common agricultural policy.
The meat sector is high on the agenda because it is a sector marked by contrasts and at the crux of the many challenges for the future of the agricultural sector.
On the one hand, world meat consumption is growing consistently as a result of demand from the emerging counties and has increased by 6% over the past five years. On the other, consumers in the developed countries are being bombarded with negative reports about the impact of allegedly excessive consumption. In the latter countries, per capita consumption is stagnating.
On the one hand, livestock farming, and in particular extensive cattle, sheep and goat farming, helps preserve natural biodiversity and maintain the landscape, conserve grassland, thereby combating climate change, and maintain biodiversity, all key issues for Europe. On the other hand, however, criticisms are voiced of the environmental impact of certain types of livestock farming, in particular as regards the question of water and changes to land-use.
While some regions are taking full advantage of the growth of the emerging markets, others are finding it hard to cope with the competition.
Contrary to what is sometimes said, Europe is no longer a ‘price setter’, as it has been in the past. In fact, the opposite is true. Following the successive CAP reforms, Europe has become a ‘price taker’. This is the reality and it poses a challenge for our farmers, because they must, at the same time, meet the specific needs of European society and seize the opportunities offered by the world market.
Another contrast: sheep and cattle are often farmed in Europe’s vulnerable regions. It is often the only farming activity (and sometimes the only economic activity) possible. Side-by-side with this in the meat sector are regions that are well integrated into global commercial circuits and regions that have based their development on creating highly competitive meat sectors.
In both cases, whole segments of the regional economy are based on livestock farming. Europe is proud of this and wants to preserve the considerable potential this represents.
But these contrasts pose challenges for all producer countries. We must meet the challenge of food security, responding to growing demand, while respecting the distinctive natures of the different regions and the strong cultural identities linked to meat production and the environment.
Europe is well placed to meet these conflicting challenges: production and sustainability, thanks notably to the efforts made over recent years to move towards a more market-oriented agricultural policy; thanks to the efforts we shall continue to make to reform the CAP, with improved exploitation of ‘greener’ agricultural practices; and, finally, thanks to our considerable capacity for research and innovation.
But if Europe is well placed (I shall come back to this), this must be part of a coherent, international approach, as regards both our bilateral and our multilateral relations.
The first challenge is, of course, the Doha Round. As you know, there is not much progress at the moment. A multilateral agreement could provide a boost to world agriculture, as long as it takes into account the reality of vulnerable rural areas throughout the world. More often that not, livestock farming is a crucial activity in these areas. It is one of a range of essential but vulnerable rural activities. And so meat is often a critical product, and this must be recognised.
This holds for both multilateral negotiations and bilateral negotiations, which have taken on increased importance in recent years. In both cases, negotiations must take account of the need for social, environmental and economic sustainability.
With the SPS Agreement reached during the most recent round of multilateral negotiations, progress was made on health and plant-health standards. The standards apply to all products and are based on solid scientific arguments. They aim to protect consumers, animal and plant health and the environment.
I am doing my utmost to ensure that these standards are met. Under no circumstances must they be misused to create trade barriers. Since the beginning of my mandate, I have taken great care to ensure that commitments are fulfilled. I can ensure you that I shall continue to monitor these issues closely, together with my colleague, John Dalli, Commissioner for Health.
But there are political, societal and ethical choices to be made. This must also be recognised. I am thinking, in particular, of the question of animal welfare. It is not about misusing the rules to create some sort of tariff barrier. On the contrary, it is about listening to society and responding to its concerns. Furthermore, these concerns are less and less restricted to Europe, but are increasingly being expressed the world over.
It is true that on the issues of animal welfare and environmental standards, Europe is often a trailblazer, with very specific commitments. These commitments have a cost for producers. However, whereas the standards adopted increasingly reflect the expectations of society as a whole, they are not sufficiently taken into account in international negotiations, although I welcome the discussions on this subject that have taken place at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Lastly, whether it is the excessive volatility of world prices, which have a very direct impact on livestock farmers, particularly those who are heavily dependent on imports to feed their livestock, or increased health risks linked to climate change and increased trade, all these issues show the need for farmers, including livestock farmers, to strengthen cooperation and dialogue at a global level (G20-FAO).
Trade also needs to be developed. Europe will continue its efforts in this direction, building on what has been achieved recently, in particular with South Korea. We are working on other agreements, because Europe’s has strengths that need to be put forward and enable it to meet global demand.
We are perhaps the world's largest importer of agricultural products and agri-foodstuffs, which shows how open Europe is. We are also the biggest exporter, and we want to develop markets, not only by being competitive, but also through promotional measures and backed by my personal commitment, as Commissioner, to supporting our exporters. This is what I was doing in China last year. I am returning to China tomorrow and shall then be visiting South Korea and Japan, bearing the values of the European agricultural sector, our strengths as regards food safety, quality and know-how.
The public authorities must help the sector to overcome the challenges it faces and listen to public expectations. This is what we want to achieve with the reform of the CAP.
First of all, a short digression: not enough is made of the fact that the CAP has changed. Much has already been achieved over recent years. And this has had a very direct impact on the livestock-farming sector, with, for example, minimal use being made of mechanisms such as export refunds and private storage aid. They have been replaced by safety nets, which no longer impact on the markets but are instead triggered only in the event of a very serious crisis.
As I was saying earlier, Europe is now a ‘price taker’, open to and influenced by the world. We are more market oriented – this is the reality. But our aim is also to fulfil society’s expectations and to recognise and maintain a strong meat sector in Europe. This is essential to food security, the sound management of our natural resources and the development of our regions.
Without, of course, calling into question this market orientation and in the context of our international commitments, we have high ambitions for the meat sector with the reform of the CAP.
We wanted both to recognise the positive role played by livestock farming and to encourage livestock farmers. It is an essential factor in the ‘greening’ of agriculture and the promotion of permanent grassland. I should also like to take this opportunity to stress that the Commission has shown its commitment over recent weeks to ensuring that this instrument is not only effective, but also clearly applicable, including in livestock farming. We are not dogmatic, but I also want to stress that the reform of the CAP, as it applies to livestock farming, does not stop at environmental issues.
Other issues are just as important:
More support is needed, with more and better targeted direct aid for young farmers during the early years to help them take over from the previous generation, something that is a major challenge in the meat sector.
The possibility for EU Member States to provide greater support for less-favoured areas, which are often also livestock farming areas.
Instruments to reinforce the structure of the different sectors (producer groups). We must move towards a new form of market management, giving producers more freedom of action and ensuring better coordination between the public authorities and those working in the sector. The aim must be not to undermine the market-oriented approach but to ensure the smooth operation of the agri-food sector.
Maintaining effective market stabilisation instruments with very clear incentives to develop agricultural insurance mechanisms and mutual funds.
And, finally, an increased effort to better communicate, to better highlight quality, in particular by re-examining our meat promotion policy.
I should like to add that we want to make an unprecedented effort to promote research and innovation under the CAP. Livestock farming will be given the importance it deserves.
I should like to conclude on a matter that affects and worries us all, as crisis follows crisis. I am talking about animal health. Without entering into details on this issue, on which I work closely with Commissioner Dalli, I want to say that, in my opinion, the main way of ensuring proper animal health is by ensuring the environmental and financial health of our farms and regions. This also constitutes a preventive policy for managing health risks. We must create the conditions to make this possible. This is our aim.
Finally, I can say that Europe has high ambitions for the meat sector. It is too often attacked and is not shown the respect it deserves. Not enough is said of the extremely difficult work farmers do, day in and day out. Not enough is said of the economic, environmental and social benefits the sector brings to society as a whole. Not enough praise is given.
In any case, I, as European Commissioner, fully support the European meat sector, as does the Commission and we are determined to promote its development and respond to the positive signals coming from the markets.