EU farmers at odds with agriculture Commissioner after controversial tweets

EU farmers organisation has been left feeling unrepresented by the EU Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski after he posted a series of tweets criticising industrial farming and they are set to hash out their differences in a meeting later this week.

Commissioner Wojciechowski sparked intense debate among the bloc’s farming community with a series of tweets posted earlier this week in which he appeared to express a preference against intensive and industrial farming of livestock.  

“Everyone has the right to defend the intensive/industrial methods of animal husbandry, but one can’t say that in this way he/she defends the rural areas and farmers. Large-scale breeding is not done by farmers and these methods are not used by farmers,” read one of the tweets.

“Intensive and industrial methods serve to eliminate farmers from competition,” he added.

Another tweet addressed the definition of industrial farming, which Wojciechowski defined as “breeding that wants to produce more and more and cheaper.” 

“Yesterday the farm was a 1000 pigs, today 5000, tomorrow 10,000, the day after one hundred… You don’t need farmers to do this. They even bother you,” he said. 

The comments have provoked intense debate among the community. In response, Christiane Lambert, President of EU farmers association COPA, told EURACTIV that increasingly farmers “do not feel defended by our agricultural Commissioner”.

Stressing that diversity is at the core of the European agricultural sector, Lambert emphasised that an agricultural commissioner “must represent all of Europe”, but that Wojciechowski appeared to favour certain kinds of farmers, namely small and organic, over others.

“It is not normal that he gives his opinion on what is good and what is bad, excluding certain farmers,” she said. 

Due to the pandemic, Wojciechowski has yet to tour Europe in his current capacity, prompting Lambert to question whether the Commissioner really understood the full scope of European agriculture outside of the reference of his home country of Poland. 

Lambert said that the first time they met, Wojciechowski seemed surprised at the size of her farm, which she says is of average size for her country, France. 

The Commissioner is due to meet with EU farmers association COPA-COGECA this week at their general assembly on Thursday (22 April), where Lambert said she would take the opportunity to question him further on the tweets.

A number of other farmers have since openly criticised the Commissioner’s comments, with one calling the remarks “insulting”, while Luca Brondelli, president of the Italian provincial farmers association Confagricoltura Alessandria, said he was “sad to see that ‘our’ commissioner doesn’t understand much of farming”.

In response, FarmEurope, a think-tank specialised in agricultural issues, added it was a “worrying development” that the European Commission wants to tell farmers how many pigs they should have or define who is or is not a farmer depending on the size of their farms.

The definition of a farmer is currently one of the sticking points in the ongoing negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform.

The active farmer definition aims at preventing individuals and companies from receiving support from the CAP when their business is not agricultural or is only marginally so, but how exactly this will be defined in the upcoming CAP reform is as yet unclear.

However, the tweets also garnered support from other quarters.

Green MEP Tilly Metz applauded the Commissioner for “taking a clear stance against the destructive industrialisation of [animal] farming and for farmers”.

“We urgently need this stance to be reflected in the next CAP,” she added, stressing that time was nearly up for the negotiations.

Meanwhile, Martina Pluda, director of the animal welfare non-profit the Humane Society in Italy, welcomed the comments from the Commissioner, highlighting the need to move away from factory farming and “transition to a more plant-based food system”.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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