Preparing and implementing the European Green Deal is one of the biggest challenges the European Union has ever taken on.
We had all hoped that the European Commission’s announcement last month of the two long-awaited elements of the Green Deal – the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies – would have shown that we are up to the task.
The main goal of the Farm to Fork strategy is to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly.
I indicated, in my letter to Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans ahead of the 20 May announcement, that none of these adjectives would be applicable to the EU’s food system as long as we refuse to deal with its most pressing problem – the production and consumption of meat and animal-derived products.
Even although the Commission seems to be aware of this fact, acknowledging that nearly 70 percent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture come from the animal sector, it has once again chosen to hold back.
The list of key elements missing from the Commission’s proposal is long; more importantly, those missing are essential if the EU food sector ever wants to call itself sustainable. Industrial animal farming wasn’t even mentioned in the Commission’s document.
Unlike pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics, there are no clear reduction targets on the number and size of industrial farms, or the overall number, or maximum density, of animals bred on such farms proposed.
There have also been no targets set for greenhouse gas emissions, for which animal husbandry is partly responsible for.
And no clear declarations have been made on support for farmers who want to switch to more sustainable animal farming methods.
Is it because the Commission is still reluctant to deal with the influential meat lobby? Is that why the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which applies to the energy and transport sectors, is still not applied in agriculture?
“Cage farming, long-distance transportation, particularly cruel slaughtering methods and other unacceptable practices should have been mentioned in the document”
It is hard not to draw such a conclusion. Especially when one takes into consideration the leaked version of the Commission’s communication, which was set to propose ways to stop encouraging the production and consumption of meat.
Instead, the final version includes only the commitment to revise the EU’s promotion programme for agricultural products.
Even although meat is explicitly mentioned (but not dairy and other animal-derived products, which are omitted from the whole document), it can hardly be seen as enough.
As part of its communication, the Commission pledges to improve animal welfare by revising any relevant legislation based on the latest scientific evidence.
As the new EU Strategic Guidelines on Aquaculture are mentioned, it seems that there is a chance that we will finally see some much-needed changes in relation to fish and other aquatic animal welfare.
The fact that animal welfare was made a relevant part of the strategy should be welcomed. However, more concrete proposals are needed here.
The document should have highlighted the need to act on cruel slaughter techniques and other unacceptable practices such as cage farming.
These are only some of the shortcomings of the proposal. We need the Commission to step up and adjust the course of its actions while it is still possible.
We must not forget that the future of the generations to come is in our hands; we have no other choice but to rise to the challenge.