A total of 94 people with connections to the Casa Nostra mafia were arrested in and around the Sicilian city of Messina on January 15 with prosecutors alleging that around €10 million in EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds since 2010 had been fraudulently obtained.
The police said they had dismantled two clans in eastern Sicily – the Batanesi and Bontempo Scavo families – who allegedly falsely claimed subsidies for large plots of farmland that were in reality either property of the Italian state or simply did not exist.
In the UK, a bill that will phase out direct payment subsidies, post-Brexit, and over a seven-year period was introduced into Parliament.
A cornerstone of the draft legislation is that direct payments will be phased out from 2021 over a seven-year period. It sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside or measures to reduce flooding.
The new system will replace the current EU subsidy system of Direct Payments which pays farmers for the total amount of land farmed, which the government says has skewed payments towards the largest landowners rather than those farmers delivering specific public benefits.
In the US, the Senate approved the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) implementing legislation by an 89-10 vote, drawing strong praise from agricultural groups, who pointed to the potential trade gains and certainty that will come with ratification of the accord.
The USMCA measure is set to be signed by President Donald Trump this week, completing the US ratification process of the pact that updates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico has already ratified the deal and Canada is expected to follow suit after its parliament returns from a winter break January 27.
Also in the US, agricultural organisations welcomed the signing of the Phase One US-China trade agreement on January 15 at the White House but emphasized Chinese follow-through will be a key factor and said more progress on tariff and non-tariff barriers on Phase Two negotiations is needed to restore their competitive position in the Chinese market.
The signing was attended by administration officials, lawmakers, and business leaders and caps nearly two years of negotiations that saw several fits and starts, with Trump resorting to multiple rounds of tariffs to keep pressure on China to reach a deal when talks stalled.
Luxembourg announced that it was likely to be the first EU member state to ban glyphosate, with a planned, total phase-out by the end of 2020.
Austria had been set to take the title of first EU country to ban glyphosate, when the Austrian Parliament voted to ban it by January 1st, 2020. This did not happen, however, as the government had not notified the European Commission of the ban.
Since then, EU health and food safety Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, has implied that Austria’s plan to ban the substance could contravene EU law.
At EU level, MEPs voted on their position for the EU’s biodiversity strategy for 2030 ahead of an international conference.
The EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy aims to commit the bloc to protecting nature and ecosystem services. MEPs in the plenary adopted their position on the Commission’s proposed text for the strategy and want to introduce legally binding biodiversity targets for the EU and its member states.
They also called for 30% of EU territory reserved for natural areas, the restoration of degraded ecosystems and at least 10% of the EU’s long-term budget dedicated to boosting biodiversity.