Harnessing the Ukraine Crisis for Big Business

Business interests are never shy about opposing goals and regulations aimed at protecting workers and the environment or tackling the climate crisis. But we are currently seeing an intensification of industry efforts to thwart progressive regulation in many sectors, especially in food and agriculture. And the industry isn’t afraid to deploy the Ukraine crisis to serve its agenda.

Take, for example, the “food supply chain” lobby ‒ large farmers, food traders, manufacturers and retailers ‒ which asserts, in response to the Ukraine crisis, that “the content and timing of the regulation must take into account the costs for those who have to apply it”.

Or BusinessEurope, one of The biggest pressure groups in Brusselswith members including agrochemical giants Bayer and BASFwho has asked the EU to “impose new requirements only when absolutely necessary” and to avoid “binding requirements”.

Or one leaky paper by the Federation of Austrian Industries demanding a halt and reassessment of climate targets in Brussels and Vienna, arguing that “due to the Ukrainian crisis, we cannot go back to political business as usual”.

But the food, agricultural and chemical industries have directed their greatest anger at the EU’s farm-to-fork strategy, an attempt to move away from the EU’s traditional productivist, labour-intensive model of agriculture. pesticides and business-friendly.

The industry has tried to derail from farm to forkusing the Ukraine crisis to reignite tired arguments against greener farming practices, with EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans even complaining of being personally targeted.

friends in high places

Industry’s political allies on the center-right have also spotted an opportunity to strike the drum for deregulation.

The large farmers’ lobby Copa-Cogeca worked with the centre-right, pro-business European People’s Party (EPP) Group of the European Parliament to weaken and block vital rules to implement climate goals, requiring a mega-impact assessment of the proposal.

Such assessments tend to favor economic factors over social and environmental factors, only delaying progress towards addressing the climate emergency. Copa-Cogeca has also actively promoted another centre-right amendment demanding a “regulatory moratorium” to support businesses following the invasion of Ukraine.

In March, the EPP asked that a series of social and environmental protection files such as “the restoration of nature, phytosanitary products, and [corporate] due diligence” should be “postponed” due to the Ukrainian crisis.

In April, Germany’s centre-right politicians released an even longer list of EU social and environmental proposals they wanted to drop or delay, arguing for more “flexible” use of pesticides and no “over-regulation”. soil protection”.

Take advantage of misery

Meanwhile, the Swiss pesticide giant Syngenta CEO deliberately used the Ukrainian crisis to attack organic farming which represents a direct questioning of the profits of his company, even going so far as to blame him for the famine in Africa.

Global hunger is on the rise, with Ukraine, Covid-19 and adverse weather widely recognized as contributing to rising food prices. But this trend predates these crises and comes at a time when food production is higher than ever. As George Monbiot recently pointed this out in The Guardianthe food production and distribution system is more and more focused and “become tightly linked to the financial sector…making it more vulnerable to cascading failures.”

Financial speculators drive up commodity prices for profit, unconcerned about the wider consequences. For example investment banking JP Morgan recommended buy “commodities that performed well in previous inflation cycles”, including agricultural commodities, in the first weeks of the Russian invasion.

Over a billion dollars have been routed to agricultural trading funds in just a few weeks.

Like Olivier De Schutter, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recently said: “The speculative activity of powerful institutional investors, generally indifferent to the fundamentals of agricultural markets, is in effect on hunger, and exacerbates it.”

build on analysis by Corporate Europe Observatory and others on the EU’s previous lobbying battles to regulate food speculation, follow the money highlighted how corporate capture led to even weaker commodity speculation rules, introduced during the COVID 19 pandemic, seemingly under the public radar.

Given that corporations and financial speculators help push food prices out of reach for so many people, it is particularly cynical that their lobbyists argue that social and environmental regulations should be reduced due to the cost of living crisis. .

There could be no more powerful example of both the distortions of corporate lobbying narratives and the dire consequences of deregulation.

In March 2022, when the European Commission decided to postpone vital pesticide use reduction targets – a key part of Farm to Fork – due to the Ukraine crisis, the agri-food sector must have thought it was winning the day. battle against greener agriculture.

But he may have celebrated too soon. When the delayed proposal was finally released in late June, Green groups gave it a careful reception with binding European and national targets to reduce the use of pesticides finally on the table.

Does this mean that European policymakers are ready to reject the opportunistic and deregulatory arguments of the industry? There is certainly a long way to go to free the grip of the food and financial industry on food and agricultural policy.

It is imperative that we reduce our dependence on pesticides and fertilizers, including those derived from fossil fuels, and regulate financial and agricultural markets to ensure that in the 21st century, hunger is finally banished from the past.

Christi C. Elwood