With the unveiling of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies on Wednesday, the Commission has, for the first time, presented a coherent set of policies to tackle the food, farming and environmental sectors.
The Farm to Fork Strategy sets concrete targets to transform the EU’s food system, including a reduction by 50 percent of the use and risk of pesticides, a reduction by at least 20 percent of the use of fertilisers, a reduction by 50 percent in sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture, and reaching 25 percent of agricultural land under organic farming. It also proposes ambitious measures for improved food labelling.
Speaking at Wednesday’s launch, Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said, “We must move forward and make the EU's food system a driving force for sustainability.”
“The Farm to Fork Strategy will make a positive difference across the board in how we produce, buy and consume our food that will benefit the health of our citizens, societies and the environment. It offers the opportunity to reconcile our food systems with our planet's health, to ensure food security and meet the aspirations of Europeans for healthy, equitable and eco-friendly food.”
Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans, agreed, saying, “The Coronavirus crisis has shown how vulnerable we all are, and how important it is to restore the balance between human activity and nature. Climate change and biodiversity loss are a clear and present danger to humanity.”
The Dutch official added, “At the heart of the Green Deal the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies point to a new and better balance of nature, food systems and biodiversity; to protect our people's health and well-being, and at the same time to increase the EU's competitiveness and resilience. These strategies are a crucial part of the great transition we are embarking upon.”
Reaction from NGOs was mixed, however, with Friends of the Earth Europe saying the Farm to Fork strategy contains a number of “positive measures but stops short of stimulating the systemic change needed.”
"The Farm to Fork Strategy will make a positive difference across the board in how we produce, buy and consume our food that will benefit the health of our citizens, societies and the environment" Stella Kyriakides, EU commissioner for health and food safety
Mute Schimpf, its food and farming campaigner, said, “The European Green Deal has so far shown that you can have a growth strategy, or you can have a strategy which genuinely tackles the ecological, climate and farming crises. The Farm to Fork Strategy proves that you can’t have both - putting energy efficiency labels on fridges didn’t stop climate breakdown and putting eco-labels on our food won’t stop ecological collapse.”
FoE says the strategy includes a target to halve pesticide use by 2030 but notes that NGOs and over 300,000 citizens had called on the Commission for an 80 percent reduction target and a full phase-out by 2035.
The NGO says the strategy does not include a dedicated action plan to reduce the production and consumption of industrial meat and other animal products.
FoE says it also “presents a new generation of GMOs as an option to ‘improve sustainability along the food supply chain’ following lobbing from the biotech industry.”
A Friends of the Earth Europe statement said it considers the “lack of coherent and specific legislation to reduce meat, dairy and eggs, the promotion of a new wave of GMOs, and inadequate pesticide reduction targets to undermine the strategy’s commitment to fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food systems.”
Schimpf adds, “Industrial agriculture is causing ecological collapse – and it’s made possible by pesticide use, weak GMO safety laws and factory farms being politically acceptable. The Farm to Fork Strategy leaves the door open for weakening GMO safety laws, remains dangerously weak on pesticides and industrial animal agriculture.”
“Agribusiness executives will sleep well tonight.”
"You can have a growth strategy, or you can have a strategy which genuinely tackles the ecological, climate and farming crises. The Farm to Fork Strategy proves that you can’t have both" Mute Schimpf, Friends of the Earth Europe
Elsewhere, Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International, was even more scathing, calling the new EU food policy a “major missed opportunity.”
De Boo said, “The elephant in the room - the environmental impact of animal farming - has once again been ignored. Today’s strategy announcement is a devastating blow to those of us who genuinely wish to see a sustainable food system.”
“Without addressing our overproduction and overconsumption of animal products, we cannot even begin to hope to transform our food system. Meat and dairy reduction targets are essential if the Commission is to succeed in its food policy - without them, the plan to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050 will likely fail. This is a major missed opportunity, and we urge the Commission to reconsider its plans.”
Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, was more positive about the two strategies, saying, “Together with enhanced climate action, biodiversity restoration and the promotion of sustainable farming practices are key to reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement and building more resilient and sustainable economies in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Politicians were also quick to respond, with Thomas Waitz, co-chair of the European Green Party and an organic farmer, saying both the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies “are key if Europe wants to operate within planetary boundaries, in particular regarding its agricultural policy.”
The Austrian MEP added, “The new Common Agricultural Policy will need to take into account these strategies. It is fully possible to develop a resilient and sovereign Farm to Fork food system that feeds Europe and benefits nature, farmers and consumers. What we need now are concrete tools to achieve the ambitious targets laid out in these strategies.”
“We must also ensure that the European Parliament develops a strong position on these two strategies. The fight will be tough against agro-business and industrial lobbies who have already managed to water down the content of these strategies. No doubt these lobbies will be actively trying to limit European ambitions.”
"The elephant in the room - the environmental impact of animal farming - has once again been ignored. Today’s strategy announcement is a devastating blow to those of us who genuinely wish to see a sustainable food system" Jasmijn de Boo, Vice President of ProVeg International
Elsewhere, the EPP group said it “regrets that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission is pushing for deep changes to the EU's food production policy” and called for a “thorough impact assessment before starting any reforms.”
“We regret that the European Commission is hurrying its Farm to Fork Strategy now when farmers all over Europe are facing huge insecurity over their future”, said Herbert Dorfmann, its spokesman on Parliament’s agriculture and rural development committee.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the EPP and the agriculture committee had asked the Commission to postpone the strategy.
The Italian member said, “The least the Commission must do now is a thorough impact assessment of the legislative proposals that will follow the strategy, including the economic impact. The Commission must measure all consequences of the Farm to Fork strategy.”
“The differences in farming conditions across Europe are huge and many farmers already work in a very sustainable way. When the Commission later drafts the legislative proposals, it needs to remember that one size does not fit all. The measures must be well considered and targeted to improve our food security,” Dorfmann added.
The ECR said it believes that the position of European farmers “within the product chain must be strengthened especially under these current COVID-19 circumstances,” adding, “The import of agricultural products that do not meet EU requirements should also be reduced.”