Association calls on agri-ministers to firm-up EU-wide solutions on free movement of goods and critical workers. As the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak continue to unfold across Europe, Freshfel Europe has said that it welcomed the discussions of yesterday’s Informal Agriculture and Fisheries Council on free movement of goods and critical workers.
The fresh produce association is now urging EU capitals to find EU-wide solutions to ensure the movement of goods and critical agricultural workers in the single market. According to Freshfel, only harmonised coordination across member states on these areas will enable the fresh fruit and vegetable sector to continue supplying high quality, safe and healthy produce to European consumers.
“Freshfel Europe strongly supports the consensus among member state ministries on the need to guarantee the integrity of the single market, which is a crucial issue for the fresh fruit and vegetables sector,” the association stated. “To translate this agreement into practice it is essential that EU capitals implement the European Commission practical guidance on the EU green lanes with a matter of urgency to ensure that highly perishable fresh produce crosses internal EU borders in a maximum timeframe of 15 minutes.”“Freshfel Europe would also like to highlight the discussion during the Informal Council meeting on the need for free movement of seasonal workers within the EU and also from neighbouring countries,” Freshfel continued. “This is a critical matter for the fresh fruit and vegetable sector’s immediate future.”
Member States were urged to take immediate action to secure the availability of professional workers for the upcoming harvests, with Freshfel highlighting the “urgent need” for workers for many vegetable products as well as for other highly demanded products such as asparagus and strawberries.
The fruit season is also beginning, which requires a complete seasonal workforce – an urgent matter to resolve as for some products the season is advanced by a number of weeks due to weather conditions over the past months.
“Freshfel Europe urges EU capitals to continue to welcome seasonal workers from other EU and neighbouring countries on a formal manner. This critical staff is necessary to ensure food security in Europe during the Covid-19 outbreak. These measures should be accompanied by strong medical supervision of incoming workers, which should be harmonised across Europe. Furthermore, support from member state governments should be envisaged to secure safe transport, work and accommodation of these workers.”
The work done by the EC to guarantee the supply of fresh produce to EU citizens was praised by the association, which requested that any new measures, including on seasonal workers, were implemented with a pan-European approach that prevents distortion of competition between growers.
Freshfel also warned member states that the imposition of unilateral bans on the entry of professional seasonal workers from one or several member states to another would “deeply undermine” the ability of growers to harvest fresh produce, leading to significant food waste along the supply chain and putting supply to European supermarket shelves at risk.
“Moreover, the replacement of seasonal workers by volunteer staff should be cautiously considered and implemented,” Freshfel added. “Pickers should remain physically capable, trained, fully committed and incentivised to work throughout the season and not merely on a ‘one off’ basis. If this is not ensured huge uncertainty will be created around the capacity of the sector to continuously and uniformly supply fresh produce throughout the season.”