By Gérard Le Puill
According to a study recently submitted to the French government by the “Abcis” cabinet, the possible conclusion of two free trade agreements between the European Union and the two nations that export animal production, Australia and New Zealand, would be very important. detrimental to our agriculture. These agreements would promote a drop in the prices paid to European farmers, in particular for milk, beef and sheepmeat. These two agreements are currently being finalized between the European Commission and these two countries located in Oceania. Sparsely populated, they mainly sell food to Europe that it does not need. This is not how the 27 will contribute to carbon neutrality by 2050. Transported over long distances with a permanent maintenance of the cold chain, these animal products will emit a lot of CO2 between their point departure and arrival on the plate of European consumers.
Reducing the carbon footprint of our base means breaking with globalized competition. Because it also accelerates deforestation, which reduces carbon capture by trees. It was enough for the European Commission to sign a free trade agreement in June 2019 with the Mercosur countries for the agribusiness firms of Brazil to amplify the forest fires in the Amazon, with the hope of seeing s ” open up new outlets in Europe for soybeans and meat.
“Make the climate challenge an opportunity for agriculture”
Knowing this, it is important to report on the work that the FNSEA has just carried out by publishing a policy report last December entitled “Making the climate challenge an opportunity for agriculture”. Wrongly, more often than rightly, the first peasant union with electoral influence is readily qualified as “productivist” by part of the press, as by certain elected politicians. But it is right to look reality in the face with its current developments (1). At the start of the twenty-first century, the agricultural profession is faced with the multiple consequences of global warming with long periods of drought, devastating thunderstorms, late spring frosts which hit fruit trees and vineyards. In 2020, the significant drop in cereal yields, the lack of grass in summer increased production costs and reduced financial income with prices being trended downward for animal productions.
The study leading to this FNSEA report was led by four peasant unionists. They are Henri Bies-Péré, in the Pyrénées Atlantiques; Olivier Dauger, in the Aisne; Hervé Lapie, in the Marne and Henri Limouzin in the Vendée. Of the four, three are breeders. The collective work has been enriched by the consultation of numerous climate specialists. It results in a document of a consistency that generally does not have those produced by activists claiming only to defend the environment. The latter want agriculture that is ever more ecological, but they often hide the fact that the income of our peasants is undermined by price cuts resulting from free trade agreements against a background of social, fiscal and environmental dumping. In these agreements, the agriculture of our country is always sacrificed for the benefit of finance and a few multinationals in the industry.
Working to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 …
“The FNSEA and more broadly farmers, beyond their willingness to adapt, wish to provide solutions to participate, with the help of the public authorities, in this essential action which will allow us to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 ”, writes in the preface to the document Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA. While France and Europe are not doing what it takes to achieve this goal within 30 years, this report realistically shows that progress can be made in this direction. But he also issues warnings, an example of which is shown on page 51: “We must reason about the carbon footprint of the plate. We warn against imported deforestation and carbon leakage. Faced with ambitious French objectives in terms of carbon neutrality, the temptation to “cover” French production is certainly not the solution to the risk of favoring imports “.
In the first part of the report there are many figures and concrete examples that allow the reader to measure the consequences of global warming on the production of our daily food. The presentation of the second part tells us that “agriculture has the specificity of being part of the solution and constitutes one of the pillars of carbon neutrality, in particular through its intervention on soils and all ecosystems”. Solutions are recommended such as hedges, grass strips favorable to biodiversity, crop diversification, agroforestry, the cultivation of legumes which make it possible to reduce the input of nitrogenous fertilizers, methods which make it possible to store more carbon in the grounds. The report asks, on page 122, “a fair remuneration for farmers so that they engage and succeed in this transition. This will be achieved either through the price of their products, or through full remuneration for environmental service within the framework of a renewed contract ”.
These two ways of improving the income of farmers are possible, the aid paid by Europe being able to be oriented in favor of agronomic practices aimed at increasing carbon storage by the soils. This is done through associations of grasses and legumes, through funds in favor of agroforestry that should be put in place within the framework of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy which is to be discussed this year.
and agree to manage water to achieve it
In its part devoted to the conditions to be met “to make this transition a success”, the FNSEA text also puts forward solutions on subjects which are debated such as, for example, water management. “For the FNSEA, it is important to act both on supply by storing part of the winter surpluses for postponement of use during low-water periods (…) Thus in France, we still only store 4.7% of available water compared to 48% in Spain. We are located at 9 th rank of the irrigation rate of the UAA (useful agricultural area, editor’s note) at the European level, far behind the Mediterranean countries, but also Denmark and the Netherlands… ”, notes the report.
To imitate Spain would be a mistake, which the report does not propose. But, while households like peasants are often subject to summer water restrictions in three quarters of French departments, it is becoming evident that more water must be stored in winter if we are to ensure some of the vital uses in France. summer. In this regard, the Ile-de-France region, although being the most populous in the country, is the one that has most escaped summer restrictions on water use in recent years. Quite simply because large dams built on the tributaries of the Seine that are the Aube, the Marne and the Yonne, make it possible to support, to more than 60%, the flow of the river in summer. Suddenly, 55% of the volumes of water treated in Ile-de-France to supply the taps are collected in the Seine. These dams also prevent us from flooding in Île-de-France in the event of heavy rains, such as those which flooded the Landes department recently.
Avoid the proliferation of trade agreements
We started this article by talking about the trade negotiations between Europe and Australia, Europe and New Zealand, after many others. This concern is also expressed on several occasions in this FNSEA report which launches this warning on page 140: “It is essential that both France and the European Union ensure consistency between their environmental and climate policy and their trade policy, in particularly agricultural, in order to avoid overlapping agreements favoring non-environmentally friendly production methods to the detriment of French sectors and therefore carbon leakage. This is to ensure the implementation of the EGALIM Law and its article 44, which prohibits the offering for sale or the free distribution of products that do not comply with European standards. We must also implement the means to allow an effective application of this measure ”.
However, this was never the case in the context of the free trade agreements that Europe has signed with third countries in recent years. This is also why this FNSEA report deserves to be debated by the agricultural profession and beyond with the dual concern of slowing down global warming and preserving our food sovereignty in the coming decades.