January 31, 2024, the day of the farmers’ protest in Italy

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January 31, 2024 is the day of farmers’ protest throughout Italy, under the banner ‘United we win! We invite all agricultural entrepreneurs and citizens to join us in defending the value of Italian agriculture‘. Thousands of tractors in the streets prevent the press from ignoring the mobilization, except to insist on warning of the risk that it may be stirred up by extreme right-wing parties or various other extremists.

The protest has one main flag, the tricolour, which unites those who work the land and raise animals on Italian territory. And various others, such as that of the Italian Confederation of LiberiAgricoltori, which has always opposed the agricultural policies imposed by Coldiretti on both the governments that have succeeded one another over the decades, and the other big agricultural confederations lacking as much power and visibility (1,2).

1) Farmers united against the policies of the big agricultural confederations

Farmers from all over Europe are united in denouncing the policies carried out by the big agricultural confederations. Coldiretti (and to a lesser extent the national Confagricoltura) in Italy, FNSEA in France, are in fact the driving forces behind Copa-Cogeca in Brussels.

Only conflicts of interest of the large confederations – upstream with technical input monopolists and downstream, large industrial and retail customers – can explain why:

– the UTPs directive on unfair commercial practices did not include a ban on sales below cost, nor did it prescribe the adoption of specific tools for monitoring production costs; (3)

– the strategy Farm to Fork, which would have provided substantial funding to European farmers to support the ecological transition, was completely wasted (4,5);

– the deregulation of new GMOs, which will aggravate the dependence of farms on the seed industry at the expense of agrobiodiversity, is being pushed through (6,7).

Walrus between supplies – with a growing dependence on technical inputs, aggravated by the #Farm2Fork boycott – and the price lists blocked by industry and retail is crushing small and medium-sized agricultural companies, precisely because of these policies.

2) European agriculture, the data

The large agricultural confederations, upon closer inspection, have instead succeeded in their work of demolishing family and peasant agriculture – which still represents 94,8% of agricultural companies in the EU (Eurostat, 2020) – to the advantage of the agro-industrial giants. And the data surpasses the words:

– the average size of a farm in the EU in 2020 was 17,4 hectares, and yet

– almost two thirds (63,8%) of EU agricultural holdings were less than 5 hectares in size, while

– just over a tenth (11,4%) of agricultural holdings in the EU had 30 hectares or more, and

– larger farms, with at least 100 hectares, represented 3,6% of the total number of farms but at the same time more than half (52,5%) of the total agricultural area used in the EU.

Between 2005 and 2020 Eurostat recorded:

– the disappearance of 37% of agricultural companies, from 14,7 to 9,3 million in total. 87% of the disappeared farms (4,6 out of 5,3 million farms) had dimensions of less than 5 hectares of used agricultural area, while

– the only category of agricultural holdings for which an increase in the number of holdings was observed is that of holdings with at least 100 hectares.

As the total area used for agricultural production in the EU changed almost nothing between 2005 and 2020 (an increase of 0,3%), the decrease in the number of agricultural holdings in all size categories except of the larger ones, it reflects mergers or acquisitions of agricultural companies‘ (Eurostat). (8)

3) Family and peasant agriculture at the center

Family and peasant agriculture of every country in Europe protests to survive and not be swallowed up by the agro-industrial giants who already dominate over half of the agricultural surface used in the European Union. For this purpose – as already requested out loud by the independent agricultural confederations alone (i.e. Confédération paysanne in France, FUGEA and Jeunes Agriculteurs in Belgium, Assorurale, Altragricoltura and LiberiAgricoltori in Italy) it is necessary and urgent:

– introduce mandatory rules to guarantee the #fairprice of agri-food commodities, with a ban on sales below cost

– carry forward and support farmers with appropriate funding in the ecological transition and the improvement of animal welfare

– redistribute aid from the Common Agricultural Policy in favor of microscopic, small and medium-sized companies

– make free trade agreements conditional on compliance with equal safety, social and environmental standards on goods imported from outside the EU

– break down bureaucracy and simplify procedures for farmers. (9)

4) Unfair commercial practices and distortions of competition. Stop the exemptions

Unfair commercial practices – and thus, the prohibition on undercutting – must also apply to ‘contributions of agricultural and food products by agricultural and fisheries entrepreneurs to cooperatives of which they are members or to producer organizations‘, as today excluded by Legislative Decree 198/21 (article 2.1.e). (10) The Italian exception in fact produces two negative effects:

– exclusion of the protection of individual farmers and/or producers and/or their groups with respect to unfair commercial practices implemented against them by cooperatives and producer organizations

– distortions of competition in favor of cooperatives and producer organisations, to the detriment of individual producers who are instead subject to Legislative Decree 198/21 and the greater burdens it entails (i.e. financial charges linked to compliance with the payment terms set out therein).

Directive (EU) 2019/633 on unfair commercial practices in the food supply chain, of which the aforementioned decree constitutes (theoretical) implementation, instead regulates all agri-food supplies and prohibits Member States from reducing the protection of suppliers of agricultural and food products (Article 9). The aforementioned decree is therefore in conflict with the reference directive.

5) NO #belowcost, #fairprice. that’s how

The ban on selling below cost must be stated bluntly – also in the EU, through reform of the aforementioned Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) Directive – and guaranteed, in its effective application, together with the #fairprice. To this end, Member States should introduce some simple rules:

– detection and publication of objective production costs, in real time, referring to individual production chains in individual regions

– establishment of telematic commodity exchanges, to verify the findings of objective costs and price trends

– evidence in the electronic invoice of both quantity and quality, composition, origin and certifications of the goods, and of the prices applied in comparison with the objective costs and commodity exchange prices

– systematic checks on invoices, to be attributed to tax inspectors and sanctions proportionate to the turnover of buyers. With publication of inspection reports

– transparency on the label, via QR-code, on the price paid to farmers and processing companies.

6) Conflicts of interest and governance

Conflicts of interest in a strategic sector such as agriculture – to which 33% of the European budget is dedicated – must be subjected to stringent rules. In order to prevent shameful events, such as the followings:

– successive Italian governments have tolerated Gabriele Papa Pagliardini’s conflict of interests, which was even censured by the European Commissioner for Agriculture. (11) The former general director of the paying agency AGEA (General Agency for Agricultural Payments), as well as a member of AgriRevi of the magic circle of Coldiretti, now appears to work for Federconsorzi 2 alias CAI (Consorzi Agrari d’Italia) SpA, whose dominant shareholder Bonifiche Ferraresi is one of the first beneficiaries of public contributions in agriculture (12)

– the Minister of Agriculture Francesco Lollobrigida, on 13.9.23, appointed as head of cabinet Raffaele Borriello, former general director of ISMEA (Institute of services for the agricultural food market) who had in the meantime been enlisted by Coldiretti as head of the legislative area and institutional relations, without particular attention to the regulation of the ‘revolving doors’ so in vogue at Palazzo Rospigliosi (13,14). The temporal coincidence with the development of the decree for the ‘monopoly’ of services in agriculture is not lost on many (15)

The magic circle of Coldiretti does not need tractors, having at his disposal the Porsche supplied to his Agromafie Observatory by the former director of the Customs Agency, arrested in the meantime. (16) Until when?

#fairprice #VanghePulite

Dario Dongo

Footnotes

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

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

(3) The speaker at Unfair Trading Practices (UTPs) Directive, the MEP Paolo De Castro, combination, was then appointed and is still president of the ‘Filiera Italia’ created by Coldiretti to form an alliance with the giants of industry and large-scale retail trade

(4) Dario Dongo. No to reducing pesticides, yes to glyphosate. ToxicEuropeGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.11.23

(5) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Nature Restoration Law’, green light with downward agreementGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.11.23

(6) Dario Dongo. NGTs, new GMOs, deregulation advancesGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.1.24

(7) Paolo De Castro, the MEP loyal to Coldiretti, announced his commitment to deregulating GMOs already at the beginning of the legislature. See the previous article by Dario Dongo. GMO, the new empire that is advancingGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.7.19

(8) Eurostat. Key figures on the European food chain – 2022 edition. 7.12.22 http://tinyurl.com/yed2n9sn

(9) The Via Campesina. Call to action: Fair incomes for all farmers! Stop free trade agreements immediately! 30.1.24 http://tinyurl.com/bdzmc729

(10) Dario Dongo. Unfair commercial practices, the woes of Legislative Decree 198/2021GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.12.21

(11) Dario Dongo. AGEA – Coldiretti, the European Commission rejects the conflict of interestGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.3.21

(12) Three different names appear in the FarmSubsidy database to indicate Bonifiche Ferraresi Spa, part of the BF Spa Group which, in total, received €19.824.529,73 of PAC funds between 2015 and 2021. See Edoardo Anziano, Paolo Riva. The ultra-rich of European agriculture. Irpimedia. 2.12.22 http://tinyurl.com/yurhd5j3

(13) ‘Employees who, in the last three years of service, have exercised authoritative or negotiating powers on behalf of the public administrations of which (…), cannot carry out, in the three years following the termination of the public employment relationship, work or professional activities at the private subjects who are recipients of the public administration’s activities carried out through the same powers (…)‘. Legislative Decree 165/01, article 53.16-ter

(14) Dario Dongo. Public administration, loyalty to the state or to Coldiretti? #Clean shovelsGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.6.21

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

(16) Dario Dongo. Coldiretti, the Agromafie Observatory and the Porsche of the Customs Agency. The documentGIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 25.6.23

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