In March, negotiations began on the European Parliament’s Own Initiative Report on the Farm to Fork Strategy. A lot is at stake because with the Farm to Fork Strategy the European Commission has, for the first time, drafted a vision paper that takes a holistic view of the entire food chain - from the field to the farmers’ market to the cooking pot.
The strategy paper is ambitious and addresses the central challenges of our current food system. It contains important levers with which we can counter climate change and the loss of biodiversity. However, it will be essential during the implementation of this vision not only to fight the symptoms but to tackle the causes.
“The high use of toxic pesticides in agriculture not only endangers the health of both humans and animals, but also causes our soils to deteriorate”
For example, the demand for a 50 percent reduction in pesticides and a 20 percent reduction in synthetic fertilisers is absolutely necessary if we want to keep our soils fertile. The high use of toxic pesticides in agriculture not only endangers the health of both humans and animals, but also causes our soils to deteriorate. Every year, about 970 million tonnes of fertile soil are lost in the EU through erosion alone. One metre of soil, in contrast, takes between 20,000 and 200,000 years to form, depending on the parent rock and climate.
Here we Greens see ecological farming methods such as organic farming, permaculture, micro-farming, and agroforestry as key. Numerous studies already show that these methods, for example through the right crop rotation and variety, on the one hand significantly increase crop yields and on the other hand keep the soil fertile, increase diversity and thus strengthen the entire ecosystem. This shows that we can safely do without toxic substances that are harmful to humans, animals, and the environment. And by doing without them, we only gain.
Industrial agriculture has already shown in recent decades that it does not deliver what it has promised; that it cannot feed the world and that its high use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, as well as exploitative factory farming, causes more harm than good. That is why my Group welcomes the Commission’s call to increase the share of land under organic farming from the current EU-wide level of seven percent to 25 percent. Organic farming goes hand in hand with improved welfare in animal husbandry. Animal welfare is an important concern for more and more Europeans.
The Commission’s call to halve the sale of antibiotics in animal farming and aquaculture by 2030 is an important first step. However, we must ensure that a reduction in sales also leads to a reduction in use, considering that they are often used for prophylactic reasons in animal husbandry and that the number of multi-resistant bacteria is rapidly increasing.
But higher animal welfare standards seem to be a sticking point in the negotiations. In the first round in April, the ‘hot topics’ like animal welfare were not yet discussed, but differing views were also emerging on the topics of food contact materials, unfair trade practices, food waste and labelling. While the EPP and Renew Europe groups would prefer not to call out the unhealthy nature of ultra-processed foods, it is clear to us as Greens that we cannot ignore the negative impact these foods have on our health. For us, another very important issue is a mandatory front-of-pack labelling, because consumers have a right to know what they are eating and can subsequently make better choices.
Furthermore, it will be extremely difficult, it seems, to find common ground on new plant breeding techniques such as Crispr/Cas. We Greens are concerned about the careless use of new genetic engineering. Only recently, the EU Commission presented a study with the conclusion that the current EU legal framework for GMOs was outdated. This study presentation was preceded by enormous lobbying pressure. The industry is doing everything it can to avoid having to declare new GMOs, even though most Europeans do not want genetically modified organisms in their food.
“In order to guarantee consumers freedom of choice, we demand that the products of new genetic engineering continue to be regulated as GMOs”
So far, all types of genetic engineering are covered by the relevant EU rules for authorisation, traceability and labelling. Independent scientists are also calling for the rules not to be softened and for the ruling of the European Court of Justice to be implemented. Only recently, a study entitled “Genome-edited plants in the EU - A Scientific critique of Leopoldina and EASAC statements” was published on behalf of the Greens/EFA Group. In this study, the authors demonstrate how the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and other scientists used selective data on new genetic engineering in 2019 and thus also influenced the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC).
The Network of Critical Scientists, ENSSER, demonstrates which scientific data was not considered or only partially considered. In order to guarantee consumers freedom of choice, we demand that the products of new genetic engineering continue to be regulated as GMOs. So, there is still a lot to do. The negotiations are expected to last until the end of May, with a vote in the joint committee planned for 3 June.