A row has broken out between the European Commission and EU-wide food and farm federation Copa-Cogeca over its claims that a planned trade deal with South America’s MERCOSUR would destroy Europe’s beef sector.

Copa-Cogeca’s claims come ahead of negotiations this month between the EU and the Mercosur trade bloc over a trade deal, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Co-presidents Padraig Walshe and Paolo Bruni said: “If trade is fully liberalised between the two sides, it is estimated to result in losses to the EU beef sector of as much as EUR25bn (US$35bn).” Given that Mercosur already provides 90% of the EU’s beef imports, that would cause a “total collapse of the EU beef sector,” said the federation. Copa-Cogeca also claims a deal would “increase price volatility”.

The Commission’s trade spokesman John Clancy told just-food such allegations were “exaggerated”. He said the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy would help fund beef producers facing new Latin American competition “to cover the higher costs [partly] due to the high level of environmental and animal welfare standards that exist in the EU”.

He added that European consumers generally preferred Europe’s high-quality beef, made with higher welfare standards and lower carbon emissions, adding: “Rather than entirely prohibiting imports from regions with different standards, we should increase the awareness of consumers to these differences.”