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EU urged not to greenwash agriculture

Soyabean harvesting in Argentina
Researchers in the US claim that global food consumption could add nearly 1C of warming by 2100. (Photo: Diego Giudice/Bloomberg)

A group of 25 environmental NGOs have written to the European Commission urging it not to label intensive agriculture and industrial livestock production as sustainable under the EU taxonomy.

The European Commission must ensure its forthcoming delegated act setting out which agricultural activities can be considered sustainable under the EU taxonomy is informed by science and does not greenwash the farming sector, according to a letter sent last week to the EU executive by a group of 25 environmental non-governmental organisations. They insist that no criteria is better than labelling intensive agriculture as sustainable in the taxonomy.

“It is vital the taxonomy delegated act does not recognise industrial livestock production as an environmentally sustainable activity,” said Sebastien Godinot, senior economist at the WWF European Policy Office, in a statement. “The commission must either align with the overwhelming scientific evidence that intensive agriculture harms the environment or not act at all.”

In October 2022, the commission’s expert group, the Platform on Sustainable Finance, set out technical screening criteria to be used to determine what forms of animal production make a substantial contribution to biodiversity and ecosystems. The NGOs — including the WWF, BirdLife International and the Rainforest Action Network — want the commission to follow the group’s advice closely.

“Industrial livestock production causes substantial environmental harms both in the vicinity of the farm and through the upstream activities of producing cereals – wheat, maize, barley and oats – to feed the animals,” the letter stated.

“Production of cereals for feed is mostly carried out intensively, in monocultures, with abundant use of agrochemicals. This leads to soil degradation, biodiversity loss, overuse and pollution of water, as well as air pollution.”

Significant source of emissions

The letter also highlighted the large amounts of imported soyabeans used as animal feed in the EU and its links to deforestation, and the significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions produced by “intensive, industrial livestock systems”.

A study, published last week by researchers in the US, found that global food consumption could add nearly 1C of warming by 2100, driven by foods that are high sources of methane, such as beef, lamb and dairy.

“We appreciate the commission is under considerable pressure to greenwash the industrial livestock sector. However, we urge you to clearly recognise that industrial livestock production does significant harm to the taxonomy regulation’s environmental objectives and is unable to make a substantial contribution to any of them,” the NGOs wrote.

“If the commission is not prepared to fully align with the Platform on Sustainable Finance proposal, we would prefer there to be no delegated act on agriculture than a greenwashed one,” they said.

The NGOs are particularly vigilant as to the European Commission’s next steps after it made the controversial decision in July 2022 to label gas-fired power and nuclear energy as sustainable in the taxonomy in its Complementary Climate Delegated Act.

In the coming months and years, the EU executive is expected to come forward with similar legislation for the other areas that would ultimately be covered by the taxonomy, not least biodiversity and agriculture.

The timetable for when these criteria will be published is opaque, but the WWF said that “regarding agriculture, given the extreme importance of the sector for biodiversity, we have chosen to be proactive and communicate early”.

Aleksandra Palinska, executive director of sustainable finance trade body Eurosif, told Sustainable Views that she agreed with the key messages in the letter.

“It is important the commission follows the advice of the Platform on Sustainable Finance, which the commission created for that purpose and mandated it to develop the technical screening criteria,” she said.

“The criteria for the EU taxonomy must be science-based and ambitions should not be reduced due to political pressures.”

A service from the Financial Times