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Daily CSR
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Under industry sway, EU to reintroduce processed animal proteins


Policy making in Brussels has long been a notorious banquet for lobby groups. The decision to reintroduce highly controversial processed animal proteins (PAP) to the European food system is the one recent example that risks damaging the ambitions of the European Green Deal.

Dailycsr.com – 18 May 2021 - Control of European Commission advisory groups by industry interests has a history stretching back years. As part of European Union (EU) policy development, domains are broken down into Directorates-General (DG), the EU equivalent of ministries. There are 33 of these under the current commission, each with their own advisory groups.
The domination of advisory groups by so-called industry experts is one way that companies ensure that their positions resonate loudest when it comes time for legislative decisions. This very issue at one stage led to the European Parliament freezing budgets for such groups until reforms were enacted.
The DG for agriculture has a particularly poor track record for imbalances in representation, with groups that are economically motivated, receiving a far higher number of seats and greater access and influence during discussions.
Despite reprimand, the issue continued to be so bad that in 2014 a group of organisations sent a letter to the then Agricultural Commissioner, Dacian Cioloş, demanding urgent Commission-driven reform. Little has since changed, with some 75-80% of seats held by individuals representing industrial agricultural companies.
When newly elected Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced the Green Deal in 2019 Europeans concerned with what is happening to the planet celebrated.
But despite environmental ambition, according to ex-DG Agri policy officer Joost De Jong, the farming lobby has won back control of this legislation too.
"If you compare the final version of the Farm to Fork strategy to earlier drafts, you can already clearly see the fingerprints of DG AGRI. The goal for ecological agriculture in the EU all of a sudden went down from 30 to 25 percent," De Jong said.

Lobbies at work

These issues have once again risen to the surface through a recent decision made by the EU Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed. The committee, comprised of EU member state representatives, voted to reintroduce processed animal proteins (PAP) to the food chain.
PAP from pigs is to be fed to poultry, and PAP from poultry to pigs. Cannibalism in animal feeding practices is strictly forbidden, not least of all because it leads to animal disease transmission; however, many voices in agriculture deem inter-species protein feeding permissible in naturally omnivorous animals.
This is achieved by breaking down and processing animal parts judged below the quality threshold for human consumption. The feeding of animals in this way was banned by the EU in the wake of the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis.
The outbreak was terrible for animal welfare, especially in the United Kingdom, and led to mass culling, as well as a number of fatal cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people who had consumed contaminated beef.
Strict measures put in place to prevent a return of this disease have been largely successful, but for economic reasons related to the cost of vegetable-based proteins for animal feed, industry interests are pushing for legislation to be changed.
The poultry industry "has a vested interest in seeing a return of pig PAP in rations," admitted Copa Cogeca board chairman and Gloucestershire-based poultry producer Charles Bourns.
"It could then lead to the reintroduction of poultry PAP in other livestock diets and there’s a significant global market for that, which the UK poultry industry could exploit,” Bourns said, adding that the market for this in the EU alone could be worth £500 million per year.

Questionable motives

The EU and its advisors argue that newer, intensive processing methods appear to reduce the risks of disease transmissions through PAP feeding. They also suggest that with sufficient investment, supply chains can be modified to reduce the risks of source contamination, although in truth no guarantees can be made.
Showing their sleight of hand, lobbyists advocate for PAP on environmental grounds too: by using more of the animal, they claim, parts that would otherwise be waste material contribute to the circular economy.
The economics might make sense for producers, but arguments about both safety and sustainability stand on shaky ground. The decision also poses clear ethical conflict with the Green Deal on the basis of the “Do no harm” principle and it moves things in the wrong direction regarding reforms to industrial farming practices.
While it could be cheaper, the nutritional quality of modern PAP — as a result of updated and rigorous processing techniques — also means that it is less healthy for animals than advocates claim. It is also not clear what the long-term consequences will be for the food chain and, therefore, for consumers of the resultant animal products.
“At this point, it’s not even known if the technology is there to check contamination,” according to British Poultry Council’s Shraddha Kaul.
“Re-introduction will be a lengthy process and will require details on regulations and testing to prevent, for example, cross contamination,” she said.
EU scientists have been working on appropriate tests, with research ongoing. But, as the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated, disease specialists often struggle to predict future outcomes. By thinking in economics or, at least, allowing lobby groups to do it for them — EU politicians are losing sight of what matters.