The Minister with responsibility for food, farming and environment my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 22 February. Richard Lochhead MSP also attended. It was also the first Council for Commissioners Ciolos and Dalli.
On animal welfare labelling there was a first exchange of views on the Commission’s communication for labelling food to reflect the animal welfare status of their production. Discussions showed some common ground among member states, not least on a call for any welfare labelling system to be simple, clear, voluntary and allow for higher levels than the EU minimum. There were also calls for a thorough cost-benefit analysis of any proposals so as not to place undue burden on producers, but conversely it was also acknowledged that welfare labelling could provide producers with new market opportunities. There was little discussion of the concept of EU animal welfare reference centres.
Next, the Presidency tabled a paper on the future of market management measures (MMMs) under the common agricultural policy (CAP). Most member states believed the current degree of market orientation to be sufficient, while others (including the UK) believed the degree to be insufficient. The majority of member states also thought the existing suite of MMMs were efficient but not sufficient for the future given the increasing prevalence of price and income volatility. The UK was among those that welcomed the expected abolition of export refunds—and Commissioner Ciolos confirmed that their abolition was a core element of the EU’s Doha development agenda (DDA) position—and also doubted the utility of MMMs across the piece. A number of member states also called for additional MMMs, while a bloc—the UK included—remained sceptical of adding to the existing instruments.
Commissioner Ciolos stressed that there would be no return to the pre-2003 days of market management. The Presidency noted the views around the table and set out its intention to submit draft Council conclusions to the Special Committee on Agriculture—SCA.
Italy requested Council to approve extension of its state aid scheme to support land purchases, calling for European solidarity. The application required Council approval because it was outside regular state aid rules. A number of member states indicated they would vote against, therefore the Presidency halted the discussion, noting that the Council was not unanimous.
There were a number of items under any other business. Portugal—supported by the UK and some other member states—urged the Commission once more to take action to increase supplies of raw sugar for the EU cane refining industry. The Commission demurred, but promised to continue to monitor the situation.
The Netherlands expressed its concern about increased trade in illegal ivory and noted that the number of seizures had doubled last year. As this was not directly Agriculture Council business, the Commissioner recognised the widespread concern on this issue, which he would pass on to his colleagues.
Greece outlined its concern about the impact of the financial crisis on its agricultural sector, in particular calling for additional market management measures to prevent crises developing.
Commissioner Ciolos responded to a written French request to intervene in support of the cereals market, stressing that there was no justification to activate additional market management measures—intervention was already open—and that the prospects for the market for 2010 were optimistic.
Poland made a plea for the date of the entry into force of the ban on the use of conventional cages for laying hens to be delayed for five years to 2017. Commissioner Dalli responded that a delay would be a major step backwards, would undermine EU law, and would confuse producers, and urged member states to take full advantage of money available through rural development funding to help their respective industries adapt.
On BSE testing, Belgium suggested that it should be able to move from controlled risk to negligible risk status, and increase the age for BSE testing to 60 months from 48. Commissioner Dalli suggested that this would be considered as part of a suite of amendments being considered to BSE controls as part of the revised TSE Roadmap which will be published in May.
Finally, Council took note of the update given by the Netherlands on the Q fever situation, the rigorous measures they are taking, and the international conference on Q fever that the Netherlands will host.