The European Commission has announced a series of "exceptional measures" to support the agri-food sector during the coronavirus pandemic, including a private storage aid scheme to allow producers to withdraw products from the market until it recovers.
The measures, valued at €80 million, come amid a global slump in food demand triggered by shutdowns of the food service and hospitality sectors across Europe and the US.
"The consequences of the coronavirus crisis are increasingly being felt in the agri-food sector and this is why we have decided to take swift action, in addition to the measures already taken since the outbreak of the crisis," the EU's agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said.
Farmers groups, including the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) here, have criticised the package, claiming the financial supports are too little given the scale of the downturn.
IFA president Tim Cullinan said the funding amounted to less than €8 for every farmer in Europe.
He said the financial crisis for beef finishers is so severe that a much more substantial financial package involving market supports and direct payment aid is required. “I am concerned that the EU Commission appears to be taking agriculture and the food supply chain for granted,” he said.
The storage scheme will allow producers store food for between two and six months in order to “decrease of available supply on the market and rebalance the market on the long-term”.
The bulk of the funding for Ireland is expected to be used to store cheese.
The commission also said it would introduce “flexibility for market support programmes” to reorientate funding towards crisis management.
Certain sectors will also be exempt from EU competition rules for the duration. These include the milk, flowers and potato sectors.
“ For example, the milk sector will be allowed to collectively plan milk production and the flower and potatoes sector will be allowed to withdraw products from the market,” it said, while noting that storage by private operators will also be allowed.
The commission said it aims to have these measures adopted by the end of April.
“The measures proposed are, in the present state of market developments, intended to send a signal aimed at stabilising markets and are considered to be the most appropriate for providing stability to future prices and production and thus stable food supplies and food security,” Mr Wojciechowski said.