Steps to sustainable farming

Written by Elsi Katainen on 4 February 2020 in Feature
Feature

The Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy is a welcome response to global food production challenges, but it needs to be implemented coherently and correctly, writes Elsi Katainen.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock


The global food system faces major challenges. The global population is increasing as the land area for farming decreases. In the EU, agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. One-fifth of our food goes to waste, resulting in 170mn tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The challenges of poor access to healthy food, a loss of biodiversity and climate change need to be tackled. Today’s farmers are expected to produce more with less money and without increasing the environmental impact.

As we adopt more sustainable farming, we need to remember that farmers are part of the solution, not the problem. They must have the opportunity to become champions of the fight against climate change. Change requires rethinking of the whole agri-food sector; Europe can take a lead in this.


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The upcoming ‘Farm to Fork strategy’, part of the Green Deal that the Commission will publish this spring, provides the opportunity for a much-needed long-term strategy for the food sector. The EU has to take a comprehensive look at food production.

We need to consider all the different steps of the food supply chain: as well as consumption and disposal of food, we should examine production, storage, processing, packaging and distribution.

The Farm to Fork strategy, as well as the other parts of the Green Deal, need to be prepared carefully with thorough impact assessments. Excessively complex regulation will only increase farmers’ administrative burden and hinder efforts to achieve sustainable farming.

EU farming is at a turning point and we cannot afford to lose a single farmer. The same applies to the CAP, which - as hinted in the Green Deal communication - should be adapted to, and to a certain extent reflect, the new climate ambition.

"Excessively complex regulation will only increase farmers’ administrative burden and hinder efforts to achieve sustainable farming"

Instead of fining and forcing the farmers, new ecoschemes must encourage farmers and provide incentives for adopting new technologies and measures. This can only be possible with proper funding for European agriculture; only profitable farms can afford to invest in environmental actions.

Similarly, Farm to Fork gives an opportunity to have a closer look on how to strengthen farmers’ position in the food chain. Farm to Fork should take a holistic approach, as the circular economy, bioeconomy, forestry and energy policy are closely linked to the food system.

We should not prepare, for example, circular economy issues in isolation from agriculture. Renewable raw materials must be at the heart of both the circular economy and food system reforms.

The EU Bioeconomy Strategy from 2018 should be implemented efficiently, as described in the European Parliament Green Deal resolution. As EU decision makers, we need to ensure that when we raise environmental standards on foods produced in Europe, those same standards should apply to imports.

That way, farmers will know that their produce will not be replaced with cheaper food from third countries following lower environmental standards. That said, we must not regulate ourselves out from the food markets.

In its communication of the Farm to Fork strategy, the Commission has focused on more sustainable use of plant protection products and fertilisers in order to promote biodiversity.

We must continue to rely on the best scientific knowledge available at the EU Food Agency. If we ignore the science, we will lose the benefits and face negative consequences in international trade.

"We need to ensure that when we raise environmental standards on foods produced in Europe, those same standards should apply to imports"

When setting targets, we also need to consider the significant differences between Member States in, for example, animal welfare, pesticide use, antibiotic use in livestock production or cadmium levels in fertilisers.

Some Member States have done more than the others, therefore the costs and opportunities for mitigation vary. The starting point for the whole strategy must be to respect existing regulation.

For example, in the area of animal welfare and animal transport, there is still room for improvement in many Member States, particularly when it comes to fully implementing existing legislation. In the Europe of the 2020s, pig tails should no longer be amputated or chickens’ beaks cut.

The three parallel processes of EU decision-making should not bring more uncertainty to the agri-food sector. The transitional regulation on CAP, which, as the Parliament’s rapporteur enjoys my particular focus, will take place from the start of 2021 until the new CAP takes effect.

This transition period should be short as possible and provide clarity and stability. This can be done only if we continue with current rules until the new CAP takes effect, where changes to European food production up to 2027 are still possible as opportunities for decision-making remain open.

In the Farm to Fork strategy, we can create a long-term vision for the food system until 2050. Such decisions need careful preparation, a global perspective and policy coherence from the EU.

About the author

Elsi Katainen (FI, RE) is a vice-chair of Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee

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