Monday, November 03, 2008

EU Green Paper on Ag Product Quality

Friend and colleague, Erimar von der Osten provided me with information about the recent Green Paper on agricultural product quality: product standards, farming requirements and quality schemes that was issued by the Commission of the European Communities. This document provides a fascinating window into the approach taken by the European Communities with respect to the connection between agriculture and society. As stated on the website for the Green Paper,

"[T]he Commission believes that quality is one of the EU's strengths to compete on a global market and respond to consumer demand. That is why quality is a unique opportunity for farmers.

The Commission wants to know if it has the right instruments to facilitate quality and to help farmers communicate on the quality of their products. For that reason, the Commission has decided to release a Green Paper asking open questions on the different issues related to quality."

Erimar's comments to me were instructive, so I pass them on:

The Green Paper addresses a slew of product characteristics including farming methods used, place of farming, etc., and the expectations of consumers to know more about the products. It states that “(q)uality is an issue for every farmer and every buyer, whether they are dealing with commodities produced to baseline standards or with the high-end quality products in which Europe excels”.

It explicitly states that “quality is about meeting consumer expectations”. What can be expected EU policy-wise? Besides the more familiar issues covering hygiene and food safety, health, nutritional value, now and in future societal demands addressing sustainability are quickly moving to the forefront of EU ag policies, consumers “increasingly pay attention to the contribution made by farming on sustainability, climate change, food security and development, biodiversity, animal welfare, and water scarcity”.

In a new effort of the EU to pursue the sustainability agenda it has been promoting since 2004, the the Green Paper suggests that “(i)nstead of seeing these demands as a burden, EU farmers shall have a real opportunity to turn them to their advantage - by delivering exactly what consumers want, clearly distinguishing their products in the marketplace and gaining premiums in return” (e.g., GIs and other certification schemes).

Traditionally the EU CAP has promoted a large expansion in agricultural production. Since 2004 a total re-focusing of the payment schemes has put the environment at the centre of agricultural policies, and meanwhile strict environmental cross-compliance requirements are enforced. These policies find the support of socialistic leaning and more conservative governments alike throughout Europe. From the US trade perspective this initiative could be seen as having the potential of creating new technical barriers (see 8.4. of the Green Paper).

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