Farmers in protest, the viral deception of Coldiretti & Co.

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Coldiretti -Co

The farmers of the Old Continent are demanding a decent income and a ban on sales below cost but the large agricultural confederations – which are responsible for the crisis – are now trying to get on tractors to avoid being overwhelmed by the protest. And national politicians are following suit, after Coldiretti & Co. have shifted the focus to the European policies they all wanted.

After having identified an imaginary enemy of European agriculture – the Green Deal, expressed in the Farm to Fork which had no application since all of them boycotted it – the large agricultural confederations allied to the governments agree with the European Commission to find a false solution, the extension of the exemption from the obligation not to exploit 4% of the land to preserve a minimum biodiversity.

Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission meanwhile proposes to extend the (no longer) transitional duty exemption regime and tariff quotas on imports from Ukraine and Moldova until June 2025. (1) And the Council approves further aid to Kiev for €54 billion, equal to the sum previously allocated for the ecological transaction in agriculture. (2) The viral deception of a sick system. #CleanSpades.

1) European farmers’ protest

The tractors occupied streets, highways and squares until reached the European capitals. The mobilisation started in Germany, and then spread to Poland, Romania, France, Belgium, all the way to Italy (3-9). Family and peasant farming, which expresses 95% of the farms in the EU, demanded and still demands:

– ban on sales #belowcost, #fairprice for agricultural and food commodities

– support for ecological transition to restore soil health and productivity

– administrative simplification and reduction of bureaucratic burdens

– fair redistribution of European public aid in agriculture through specific thresholds

– tariff quotas and sustainability requirements on imported products through free trade agreements

– health checks and tariff quotas on foodstuffs arriving from Ukraine.

2) Agricultural representatives, friends and enemies of the protest

The agricultural representatives have distinguished themselves, with respect to the ongoing mobilisation, into two categories.

A) Promoters and supporters. Like this:

– the large trade unions in Germany (Deutscher Bauernverband, DBV), Poland (Podkarpacka Oszukana Wies), Belgium (Fédération Wallonne de l’Agriculture, FWA), France (FNSA)

– independent confederations (i.e Confédération Paysanne in France, LiberiAgricoltoriAltragricolturaAssorurale in Italy, FUGEA in Belgium, La Campesina Via internationally)

– European trade representatives in the sugar, cereals and oilseeds, milk, poultry and egg sectors.

B) Enemies and opportunists. The large confederations in Italy, on the other hand, have been protested against first and foremost as being directly responsible for failed policies (6,9). Coldiretti, according to various rumours in the area, seems to have gone so far as to threaten exclusion from the ‘union’ and the loss of EU aid to some of its members if they joined the demonstrations. Only to then turn up in Brussels claiming to represent Italian farmers in protest.

3) Coldiretti & Co., face-turning and betrayals

The same Coldiretti  which in September 2021, through its president Ettore Prandini, declared that ‘the alarms about a depressive effect of the European strategy Farm to Fork on the production capacity of the primary sector are excessive and sometimes instrumental‘ because ‘competitiveness in agriculture depends on the income of companies, which must be protected‘ (10):

– in March 2021 it had already laid the foundations for excluding cooperatives and producer organizations from the regulation of unfair commercial practices and the ban on sales below cost in Italy (11)

– in February 2024 reports ‘the obvious critical issues of the so-called European Green Deal‘ of which the Farm to Fork strategy constitutes expression. Claiming that

in the name of choices that betray an environmentalist ideological fury, such as the drastic reduction or elimination of phytosanitary treatments, European farmers are being penalised and we end up increasing imports from other countries where such restrictions do not exist, in order to ensure food needs‘. (12)

Along the same lines National Confagricoltura and CIA-Agricoltori Italiani, FNSA in France, Copa-Cogeca and Farm Europe in Brussels.

4) Coldiretti, the imaginary enemies

Instead of addressing the farmers’ income crisis, in recent years Coldiretti has launched a series of battles against imaginary enemies, such as:

– the NutriScore nutritional labeling system, which in France has been shown to favor local and traditional foods over ultra-processed foods (13). In addition to being in line with the Mediterranean diet, as demonstrated by numerous scientific studies and its success in France and Spain (14)

– ‘insects at the table’, the spread of which in the Old Continent is highly unlikely and can never compete with traditional products of animal origin. First and foremost because of the high production costs and the scarcity of investment, in the face of doubts about their acceptance by consumers

– ‘cultured meats’. Just a few days ago, Coldiretti and its trusted agriculture minister were boasting in Brussels that they had defended Italian breeders from this phantom threat, with a law that (as planned from the outset) was self-extinguished on 29 January 2024. (15)

5) GAEC 8, the last imaginary enemy

At the dawn of the war in Ukraine the European Parliament – at the request of the large agricultural confederations, ça va sans dire – proposed and obtained a series of derogations from the Common Agricultural Policy and the objectives of ecological transition, as we have seen. (16) Thus, on a transitional basis, the following came to an end:

– the ban on the use of pesticides and other chemicals in areas of high ecological interest,

– the duty to devote 4% of the land area of farms larger than 10 hectares to ‘non-productive areas or features‘ (GAEC 8).

GAEC 8 is one of the nine standards (Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions) established in the Common Agricultural Policy in force today. This measure:

– serves to preserve organic matter and soil structure, protect waters and biodiversity, respect pollinating insects

– can also be fulfilled by landscape elements with high biological diversity such as hedges and trees, and above all

– has nothing to do with incentives to ‘not sow’ (set-aside) which were granted to large agricultural companies, between 1992 and 2008, to reduce surpluses. (17)

5.1) GAEC 8, a false solution to farmers’ income problems

The big agricultural confederations pretending to represent protesting farmers – after having scuttled the proposed SUR regulation (Sustainable Use and Reduction of Pesticides) and watered down the NRL (Nature Restoration Law) – have now focused on GAEC 8 as a solution to the problem. Nothing more false, considering that:

– the derogation from GAEC 8, which only applies to farms larger than 10 hectares, will have a minimum impact on 95% of farms in the EU whose size is family and peasant

– the serious income crisis of farmers (who have closed or sold 37% of their companies in the last twenty years) is recorded on 96% of the cultivated land and not on the 4% left uncultivated.

5.2) GAEC 8, the proposal of the European Commission

On January 29 2024 the European Commission – after announcing the launch of a ‘strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture‘, with the usual large agricultural confederations removed from from representation by protesting farmers – formulated the proposal to extend the derogation, or rather modify GAEC 8, for the whole of 2024. (18)

This measure may bring an exclusive short-term economic benefit to medium, large and very large farms, but it will increase the vulnerability of European agriculture to flooding, drought and soil erosion. Aggravating, in the medium and long term, the precariousness of all.

The GAEC 8 requirement – in the Brussels proposal, already criticised by the usual confederations and the Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini – can be fulfilled by cultivation without PPPs (plant protection products) of nitrogen-fixing crops (e.g. lentils, peas, field beans) and/or catch crops on 7% of arable land.

Such ‘alternatives’ measures may, however, contribute to soil nutrient cycling but not to biodiversity and its eco-system functions.

6) Coldiretti, the warning from Italian Independent Farmers

Independent Italians Farmers , in a press release from the last few days:

– declare thatthey do not recognise any association, union or other body to represent them at the tables of the European agreements underway in Brussels

– ‘they warn Coldiretti to speak in their name‘, denouncing that it would not take their positions into the slightest consideration

– warn that, if ‘Coldiretti continues in its mediation action at the agreement tables, the protest will continue in an even more incisive form to the bitter end, which will cause serious inconvenience for other working and product sectors of the country’.

The agricultural sector ‘embittered and disappointed by the changes of the last few years, determined and united, still sees itself sidelined and does not yet intend to witness the destruction of the category.’

Our dignity, our work – until now underpaid and undersized – must have new representatives outside of any currently representative structure’.

7) Coldiretti, finance on the back of farmers

Coldiretti failed to silence or suppress the ongoing protest. Nor can it represent the interests of Italian farmers in the fight against unfair trade practices and sales below cost. Precisely because it is itself the protagonist of financial projects disguised as agricultural projects. Some examples:

– the greed for a monopoly in the supply of technical services, through its CAAs (assistance centres in agriculture) which in Minister Francesco Lollobrigida’s draft decree would be the only ones (together with those of Confagricoltura) able to manage and drain quotas from EU contributions to Italian farmers (19)

– the concentration of the supply of technical means through the former agrarian consortia that survived the Federconsorzi debacle and merged into a joint-stock company quoted on the stock exchange, CAI SpA alias Federconsorzi 2, which has recently also incorporated the Consorio Agrario di Siena (20,21)

– the intermediation on sales of agricultural commodities through Filiera Agricola Italiana SpA, which invoice(s) some EUR 22,23 million in sales of agricultural consortia to large customers. Such as Casillo, Barilla, Conad, combination also members of the Filiera Italia Foundation chaired by MEP Paolo De Castro (XNUMX).

Add to this the Coldiretti diversions of PNRR funds, from farmers to suppliers of solar panels (i.e. Enel, another member of Filiera Italia), machinery and logistics. Without neglecting insurance and ‘agreed’ credits. Italian farmers are chickens to be plucked and indebted up to their necks, for this transversal power centre that profits from their very existence.

8) Coldiretti, the golden caste

The salaries of Coldiretti’s magic circle and its generals in the territories help to understand the sidereal distance between the caste and the farmers it is supposed to represent. Euro more euro less:

– Ettore Prandini, €700.000 gross (equal to €400.000 net)
– Vincenzo Gesmundo, €625.000
– council members, €575.000
– Raffaele Grandolini, €500.000
– Fabrizio Di Marzio, €400.000
– regional directors, from €250.000 to 330.000 (depending on seniority and ‘merit’, i.e. loyalty)
– provincial directors, from €130.000 to €220.000 (indiscretions relating to 2020).

The numbers are increasing with:

– the numerous corporate roles attributed to the various subjects, sometimes even in conflict of interests, (24) to which are added

– the shareholdings, including of Coldiretti president Ettore Prandini and initially of Vincenzo Gesmundo’s wife, through Chinese boxes, in CAI SpA alias Federconsorzi 2, (25) and

– the assignments to the loyalists, distributed left and right in a plethora of bodies, from reclamation consortia to those for the protection of PDO and PGI, etc., etc.

9) The king is naked

The agriculture minister Francesco Lollobrigida and his chief of staff Francesco Borriello, arriving from Coldiretti, after the outbreak of the ongoing farmers’ protest, are trying to run for cover by following in the footsteps of Ursula von der Leyen:

– after the announcement of having sent, in December 2023, ‘the modification of the Strategic Plan of the common agricultural policy which takes into account the requests promoted by the Regions and trade associations‘ (which ones, beyond the usual notes? What involvement of LiberiAgricoltori, Associazione Rurale Italiana, Altragricoltura?), the ministry communicates that

– ‘a further review is scheduled for 2024 to refine the eco-schemes and increase the number of beneficiaries‘, and

– ‘has requested, for 2024, the derogation from the European Commission for the conditionality measures of the mandatory rotation and the minimum percentage of uncultivated land‘ (see paragraph 5 above)

– on 2 February 2024 the first meeting of the ‘permanent technical table for the defense of farmers’ income (…) in which the most representative organizations of the sector participated‘ (waiting to involve the ‘minor’ ones). Referring however, beyond the title of the press release, to the ‘changes to be made immediately to the measures of the Common Agricultural Policy‘. And not also to the question of income, closely linked to #fairprice and sales below cost. (26)

10) Provisional conclusions

The protest continues, Flemish and French farmers have set up barricades with tractors in front of the purchasing centers and storage centers of large-scale retail trade, the Polish ones are blocking the borders with Ukraine, the Greek and Spanish ones are starting to mobilise.

Waiting for news on concrete solutions, it is noted that the Council – after the boomerang of sanctions against Russia, which caused the most serious crisis in the EU since the post-war period – has just allocated a parcel of aid for Kiev amounting to 1/3 of its budget, i.e. the common agricultural policy. (27) In whose name?

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

(1) EU reaffirms trade support for Ukraine and Moldova. European Commission. 31.1.23 http://tinyurl.com/ytd955f6

(2) Charlotte Van Campenhout, Andrew Gray and Sabine Siebold. EU agrees $54 billion in new aid for Ukraine as Hungary falls in line. to Reuters. 1.2.24 http://tinyurl.com/yeyeh2ka

(3) Dario Dongo. Germany, the great farmers’ protest. Here is whyGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 11.1.24

(4) Dario Dongo. European farmers, the Ukrainian question in BrusselsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.1.24

(5) Dario Dongo. Sales below costs, farmers protest in FranceGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 21.1.24

(6) Dario Dongo. Italy, farmers protest against Coldiretti. #CleanSpadesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.1.24

(7) Dario Dongo. Confédération paysanne and LiberiAgricoltori, the reasons for the protestGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 29.1.24

(8) Dario Dongo. Farmers, the protest reaches BelgiumGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 30.1.24

(9) Dario Dongo. January 31, 2024, the day of the farmers’ protest in ItalyGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 31.1.24

(10) Antonio Boschetti. Prandini: farm to fork objectives within reach. Agricultural Informer. 9.9.21

(11) As regards commercial practices and below-cost sales in Italy, please refer to:

– the role of Coldiretti in the disapplication of the Unfair Practices Directive (EU) No 2019/633. See paragraph 6.1 of the article cited in note 6 above;

– solutions to be adopted urgently. See paragraph 4 of the article cited in note 9

(12) Maddalena De Franchis. Tractor protests, Prandini: “Stop the green furor, crazy policies of the EU”. Newspaper.Net. 2.2.24 https://www.quotidiano.net/economia/proteste-trattori-prandini-coldiretti-34306794

(13) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, full marks to local products. And the quality of food improvesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.4.23

(14) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. NutriScore, consumer health prevails over agro-industrial lobbies. Petition and insightsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.5.22

(15) Dario Dongo. ‘Synthetic meat’ and ‘meat sounding’, the Italian law self-extinguishesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 2.2.24

(16) See paragraph 4.2 of the previous article by Dario Dongo. Food security, thesis and antithesis of the European ParliamentGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.3.22

(17) The difference between GAEC and set-aside:

– the GAEC, indicated in Annex II to Reg. (EU) No 1306/13, today constitute the minimum basis for sustainability in sustainable agriculture. And they must be respected by European farmers who receive direct payments or some of the rural development payments;

– the set aside, introduced in Regulation (EEC) No 1272/88, was applied first to 15% (from 1992 to 1996), then to 10% (from 1996 to 2008) of the agricultural surfaces used in large agricultural companies, at the time when the aid of the common agricultural policy were coupled to production, in a system of guaranteed prices

(18) Commission proposes to allow EU farmers to derogate for one year from certain agricultural rules. European Commission. 29.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/4p6k3t32

(19) Dario Dongo. AGEA and MASAF ‘Coldiretti’. The suppression of freelancers in agriculture. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 30.9.23

(20) Dario Dongo. Federconsorzi 2, assault on the Agricultural Consortium of Siena and Arezzo, CAPSI. #Clean shovelsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 28.9.21

(21) Siena Agricultural Consortium. Entry into CAI is official. Ok to the capital increase. The nation. 31.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/298uft7v

(22) Dario Dongo. Agricultural Consortia of Italy, Bonifiche Ferraresi and Filiera Agricola Italiana SpA, the vase is fullGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.1.21

(23) Filiera Agricola Italiana SpA does not appear to have ever had customers other than those of the Agricultural Consortia nor has it ever owned logistics and transport infrastructures. Only active and passive invoices which today, with the new accounting standard OIC 34, could not even be accounted for as revenues (sales) and costs (purchases), instead having to limit themselves to showing the intermediation margins in the balance sheet (like the brokers )

(24) Some examples of corporate positions and conflicts of interest in the previous articles:

– Federconsorzi 2, CAI SpA, AgriRevi, Coldiretti. The idiots’ dinnerGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 31.1.21

– UNAPROL, AIPO and Oleificio Paladino, conflicts of interest like wildfire. #Clean shovelsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 13.1.22

(25) See the ‘family affairs’ in the previous article by Dario Dongo. Agricultural Consortiums of Italy SpA, Federconsorzi 2? The poison dossierGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 1.1.21

(26) CAP. At Masaf permanent technical table for the defense of farmers’ income. MASAF (Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry). http://tinyurl.com/334mudrt

(27) Marco Bottarelli. This is why the 50 billion in Kiev is a betrayal of Europe. IlSussidiario.net. 3.2.24 http://tinyurl.com/bdhpykr6

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.