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By Brian Monteith – 4 minute read

UNTIL our government changes its mindset to do things differently from the EU we shall continue lazily to adopt its norms irrespective of whether or not they are appropriate to us. You probably did not know that last year the European Commission proposed a new law to halt deforestation and minimise the EU’s impact on forests worldwide. Yes, the UK is not in the EU anymore, but it’s not as if the UK ‘being there’ made the public any more aware of new laws beginning their journey from the offices of Brussels’ technocrats to our domestic statutes.

And of course, the new law has now gone before the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health & Food Safety Committee and (naturally) received its approval by 60 votes to 2. It will now go before the full Parliament, where it will most certainly be rubber-stamped – and the Commission shall then negotiate final details with member states before its introduction. Let me into you a secret – it will pass. It is all a charade to suggest political accountability – but the reality is these decisions are almost exclusively agreed in advance.

This is important because – like so many things that come out of the EU legislative process – it will have unintended consequences and risks making the situation it is seeking to alleviate far worse. 

The new law is aimed at preventing the sale of beef, palm oil and other products in the Single Market by producers who fail to provide evidence their processes do not cause deforestation. Not without cause, campaigners and critics have highlighted that the impact assessment procedures reveal “significant omissions”, including the exclusion of endangered grasslands and wetlands, as well as obvious products that raise environmental concerns, such as rubber and maize. 

In other words, the EU appears to be virtue signalling because its new law is neither comprehensive or even justly targeted.

Here’s the background. The EU is the second-largest destination market for forest and ecosystem risk commodities (FERCs) after China. EU consumption is cited as currently responsible for around 10% of global deforestation: every year on that basis the EU causes around 72,900 square kilometres of forest loss – an area the size of Ireland. Yes, Ireland. 

In particular it is the EU’s demand for meat that’s driving global deforestation. According to the US Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute the average per capita meat consumption per person in the EU countries is 77.1 kilograms, almost twice as much as the world’s average (38.7 kilograms). 

With such information, surely the EU’s attempt to limit imports to food products only approved as not causing deforestation is a good thing? Well, it could be if that’s what it does – but typically the EU’s proposals do not achieve what they claim they set out to do.

Recent investigations by Global Witness shows for the first time EU demand for rubber is the most important contributor to Europe’s deforestation footprint across west and Central Africa deforestation. But don’t look for that to be included in the legislation. Rubber is too important to EU manufacturers and, guess what, there is no rubber manufactured in the EU (there’s a clue there).

The reality is that under the pretence of stopping imported deforestation, the EU is furthering its own protectionist agenda. It does this by very conveniently ignoring imported commodities that are causing deforestation and the regions that are affected the most by the EU imports. Instead, the EU’s proposed law focuses – as is usual – on commodities that can affect its Member States’ domestic industries. 

By seeking to manipulate the market and not treat all commodities equally (even where they are certified sustainable) then low (oil) yielding crops such as rapeseed will require more land than high-yield crops such as palm oil and thus encourage greater deforestation. That’s the unintended consequence and it’s one that the EU does not give a damn about – because Palm Oil competes with EU grown products that are more expensive such as rapeseed and sunflower oils.

The answer is simple, seek certification of sustainability rather than random and arbitrary choices by EU technocrats and include overseas food products that compete with EU-grown foods so that the consumer can decide.

Environmental campaigners without any pro- or anti-EU axe to grind, oblivious to the Brexit debate, have highlighted the EU is getting it wrong. They criticised the exclusion from the proposals of rubber, leather, maize and other kinds of meat, such as linking pigs and chickens to “embedded deforestation” through the use of soy as animal feed. Similarly, the fragile Cerrado grasslands and the Pantanal wetlands of South America, both under threat from soy and beef exploitation, have been excluded.

Earlier, under the disguise of environmentalism and climate impact, the EU introduced its ‘Farm-to-Fork’ strategy that promotes national agri-food products and discourages imported products – obviously this is also outright protectionist. 

According to a report by the USDA, as a result of the F-2-F strategy, the number of people suffering from food insecurity globally is expected to rise by 22 million, in part because developing countries will struggle to comply with the new EU standards.

The EU has been consistently targeting the Palm Oil industry saying it is driving deforestation in south-east Asia even though 90% of the palm oil consumed or imported in the EU is actually sustainably sourced. Why this attitude? Simple, the constant targeting of palm oil is driven by the European vegetable oil producers’ lobby. 

France, one of the leading producers of rapeseed oil and currently holding the Presidency of the EU, has been pushing these laws to protect its domestic rapeseed oil industry.  With the EU, it always comes back to protectionism under the guise of environmentalism or some other virtue of the moment. 

Do not be fooled by EU bans – they are designed to protect their producer interests – in this case its farmers – not those of the consumer or the world environment.

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Brian Monteith has worked in public relations for nearly forty years, initially in the City, then Scotland and finally as an international consultant in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. A former member of the European and Scottish parliaments, he is now managing editor of brexit-watch.org and ThinkScotland.org and Director of Communications at Global Britain.

Image of European rapeseed fields by Haide from Pixabay

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