Hungarian presidency: Cultured meat, food waste, animal welfare on the agenda

Hungary to follow Italy in the banning of cultured meat; V4 countries' farmers join forces to oppose Ukrainian grain import; poultry export increased as prices lowered; fertilizer sales go down but pesticide sales are up; scientists suggest ways to mitigate catastrophic droughts - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

The parliament of Hungary can be seen on a clear winter day, from the Buda side, across from the River Danube.
Beeld: ©Zoltán Szászi

Cultured meat, food waste, animal welfare on the Hungarian presidency’s agenda

The Ministry of Agriculture has stated to the news agency MTI that Hungary’s EU Council presidency will feature on its agenda, among others, the question of cultured meat, the fight against food waste, and animal welfare topics.

The press release also stated that Minister for Agriculture István Nagy has met in his office with Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, on Tuesday afternoon, and that The agriculture minister talked about how farmers are restless throughout Europe, and that in the current situation, “reassuring answers are needed.” The agriculture minister also said, reads the press release, that animal welfare questions are at the center of attention in society, and that domestically, Hungary is working to stop illegal cat and dog breeders. Mr. Nagy also talked about the proper transport of breeding animals, and harmonizing rules for imported and exported animals. The minister also stated that in Hungarian households, food waste decreased by 27% in six years.

Mr. Nagy highlighted that Hungary considers GMO-free agriculture as a value worth protecting, which is also set in the constitution. The issue of cultured meat is also on Hungary's presidency agenda. “There is overwhelming rejection of this product in Hungary”, according to Mr. Nagy, and the minister added that the Hungarian government wants to strictly regulate its production and distribution.

V4 countries’ agriculture alliances to hold joint protest against Ukrainian agricultural imports

The news portal Agrofó reports that agriculture alliances from the Visegrád Four states, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czechia, joined by farmers’ chambers from Lithuania and Latvia, were present at an expanded meeting of the Visegrád Group's agricultural chambers. The event took place on February 12-13, 2024, in Otrębusy near Warsaw.

At the meeting, Janusz Wojciechowski, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Czesław Siekierski, the Polish Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Patrick Pagani, the Acting Secretary-General of Copa-Cogeca, were present.

The statement of the Hungarian National Chamber of Agriculture states that, "alongside the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture, the agricultural chambers of five other countries strongly warn the decision-makers of the European Union not to ruin Europe's agriculture."

Ir was also stated at the meeting that the comprehensive objective of EU agriculture should continue to be ensuring food security sustainably for the population of the Union. It is of paramount importance to protect the EU's internal market from the influx of products produced in unsustainable food systems.

Poultry prices decreasing, export rose in 2023

Agrá reports that the poultry sector in Hungary has managed to increase its exports last year, despite decreasing export volumes throughout Europe. The portal used recent data from the Central Statistical Office (KSH) in its recent report. Based on this data, Hungary’s poultry meat export increased by 2%, to 200 thousand tons, between January-November, 2023, compared to the same period in 2022. However, the import of poultry meat also increased, by 7%, to 80 thousand tons in the same period.

The export of chicken meat increased by 12% to 134 thousand tons, while turkey meat decreased by 33% to 18 thousand tons. Based on the latest sectoral analysis from the Institute of Agricultural Economics (AKI), the largest target markets for poultry meat were Romania (27 thousand tons), Germany (20 thousand tons), Bulgaria (18 thousand tons), Austria (17 thousand tons), and France (15 thousand tons).

Hungary’s poultry farmers have benefited from low grain prices, which have made livestock feed, the largest cost element in poultry farming, cheaper. Energy prices have also decreased since their peak in the second half of 2022.

Producer prices remained high most of last year, despite lower costs. However, this trend has now changed, as producer prices started decreasing according to the news portal, adding that an even greater factor in this, aside from decreased costs, is falling domestic consumption. As a result of the general increase in food prices, many food product lines have experienced this impact since the end of 2022, and poultry meat is no exception, remarks the report.

Despite a good cost structure, another risk in the poultry industry is the continuous presence of avian influenza. The latest outbreak started in November 2023, with nearly eighty confirmed positive cases so far.

Fertilizer sales down, pesticide sales up

Agrárá reports that in Q4, 2023, fertilizer sales went down 13% y-o-y, despite fertilizer prices decreasing by almost half compared to the record prices of 2022.

Within the product range, the highest demand during the specified period was for calcium ammonium nitrate, with farmers purchasing the same amount as in the same period one year earlier. In contrast, demand for urea decreased by two-thirds. Sales of NPK 15-15-15 nearly tripled, while demand for potassium salt and MAP increased by 3.5 and 4 times, respectively.

Pesticide sales went up however, which can probably be explained by an increase in pest infestations due to the year’s overall mild and rainy weather.

The news portal adds that, based on monthly data collected by the Institute of Agricultural Economics for Q4, 2023, farmers purchased 70% more of the monitored products compared to the same period one year earlier. During this period, sales volume of fungicides increased by 14%, herbicides by 4% compared to the fourth quarter of 2022, and the turnover of insecticides tripled.

Scientists: Drought effects can be mitigated in the Great Plains

Researchers at the Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Science, have studied droughts in Hungary’s Great Plains, and made recommendations on mitigation, the university’s portal reported recently.

Due to structural changes in the soil resulting from intensive farming, the humidity of the near-surface air layers is low during summer heatwaves, causing cold fronts to pass over the Great Plain without the usual thunderstorms and precipitation, the scientists found.

What’s more is that the water retention ability of the soils has drastically decreased due to intensive agriculture. As a result of heavy machinery being used in large-scale farming, a secondary nearly impermeable layer has formed in the soil in many places, preventing rainfall in the fall, winter, early spring, and early summer from being stored in the deeper layers of the soil. However, the first 20 to 30 centimeters of the topsoil dries out very quickly in the summer heat, reducing the chances of enough moisture reaching the lower layers through residual evaporation to trigger thunderstorms. Moisture in the higher atmospheric layers thus does not reach the ground.

Gábor Tímár and Balázs Székely from the Department of Geophysics and Space Science, along with Jakab Gusztáv from the Department of Environmental and Landscape Geography, recommend that in some parts of the Great Plain wetland habitats, meadows, and pastures be restored. This should cover an area equal to around the size of a county.

Moreover, it would be important that surplus water from the winter season and snowmelt be directed to these areas from elsewhere. Besides the restoration of soil structure, it is also essential to encourage or support the reestablishment of vegetation with high evapotranspiration rates during the summer months.

The researchers published their findings in the open access magazine Land.