European agrifood unions and Irish minister warn of crisis, call for aid

23 Apr 2020

Restricted movement and closed borders across the European Union have led to concerns about the stability of the agri-food economy in Europe. To prevent irreparable disruption in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and continue to supply citizens with sustenance, food manufacturing trade groups and state government officials are turning to the European Commission for help.

Recently, Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture Edwin Poots warned of a ‘crisis’ brewing in the industry and pledged to bid for £100m to support agri-food, BBC News reported. Similarly, the trade groups FoodDrinkEurope, farmers association COPA-COGECA and Celcaa, the European Liaison Committee appealed to the European Commission in a joint statement to do “everything in its power” to preserve the EU Single Market and ensure an uninterrupted flow of food and beverage products through countries.

European agrifood unions and Irish minister warn of crisis, call for aid

“Following the important and necessary emergency measures taken by EU Member States, our members are reporting increasing difficulties in their business operations,” the joint statement by the trade groups warned.

Despite the lobbying from the associations, there is ongoing disruption caused by prolonged trade bottlenecks in the highly-integrated supply chain that operates across borders. The continued closure of EU member states has put pressure on producers, manufacturers and distributors that are struggling amid closures of restaurants and other foodservice facilities. Increases in supermarket sales have not been sufficient to offset the losses resulting from these closures. The BBC reported that farmers have been experiencing drops in prices paid for animals since the beginning of April and manufacturers are seeing both domestic and export markets disappear.

EU Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski sent a letter to all EU agriculture ministers in mid-March where he cautioned that the lockdown that was enacted across the Eurozone will cause “extreme hardships” to the agri-food sector.

In Northern Ireland, those hardships are beginning to show. Processors are estimating that beef is down £200 a carcass and dairy prices are predicted to fall from the already meager 25p per liter, The BBC reports.

In addition to prices plummeting, there are fears that closed borders will prevent the flow of workers and result in a labor shortage that could further affect the supply chain if crops are unable to be harvested and manufacturing plants are short-staffed.

Restarting the food economy in Europe will remain difficult as long as circulation is restricted. “Our ability to provide food for all will depend on the preservation of the EU Single Market,” emphasized the statement. “The food supply chain should be regarded as an essential sector in all EU Member States.”

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