You can have a growth strategy, or you can have a strategy which genuinely tackles the ecological, climate and farming crises. You can’t have both, and the European Commission’s proposed Farm to Fork strategy is the final proof of this, six months after its European Green Deal was announced.
Europe’s current model of farming and food consumption is destroying the environment and hurting people. Industrial agriculture damages water supplies, wildlife and rural communities, and its impacts are felt heavily in developing countries.
Indeed, the Coronavirus crisis has exposed many of the fault lines. The Farm to Fork strategy is much-needed - but falls short in many key areas.
Every year, more animals are reared for meat in the EU than there are humans alive on Earth. The environmental and social costs are staggering, but the Commission’s plan is to keep the same broken model and look into replacing imported feed with “innovative feed additives” and to “inform consumers about their choices” by labelling meat and dairy products.
A new generation of GMOs are presented as an option to “improve sustainability along the food supply chain.” This sounds vague, but it is the consequence of concerted lobbying from the biotech industry to overturn an ECJ ruling that ensures that their products must be subject to standard EU GMO safety laws.
The next step is the presentation of a study on their use, after which it is likely that the European Commission could propose weakening or rewriting laws which have kept Europe’s fields largely free from GMO crops.
Over 300,000 EU citizens have already called on the Commission to slash synthetic pesticides by 80 percent by 2030, with a full phase-out by 2035. Difficult? Absolutely. But also a bold and transformative demand which would structurally alter our food and farming system in line with what the science says we need.
The Farm to Fork strategy proposes a 50 percent reduction by 2030, with an unconvincing plan to rewrite pesticide laws.
"Every year, more animals are reared for meat in the EU than there are humans alive on Earth. The environmental and social costs are staggering, but the Commission’s plan is to keep the same broken model"
It is, of course, easy to find fault. Civil society and peasant farmers’ organisations have been pushing for an integrated food and farming strategy for years, and the Commission’s recognition of this need is a big step forward.
There is a clearly an understanding that something needs to be done on these issues. So surely we should be happier? But the stark reality is that it is 2020, and we are on the brink of total ecological collapse.
Last year, the UN-level expert panel on sustainable food systems reported an urgent need for “transformative change” of our farming system: in their words, “doing things differently – not just a little more or less of something we’re already doing.” This, in their words, is needed to prevent the unprecedented rate of species extinction from accelerating.
We need a radical shift towards agroecology, where farming works in harmony with nature, farmers and farmworkers are paid fairly and live well, and systems of production and consumption are localised. And what we have been given is a package of vague, insubstantial policies that have been designed to make sure nothing will fundamentally change.
Do Commissioners Timmermans, Kyriakides, Wojciechowski and Sinkevicius genuinely believe it will work? Which parts of the last forty years of market-based neoliberal policymaking made them believe any part of this would be a success?
Does the imagination - or the appetite - for transformative change actually exist within the Berlaymont?
"We need a radical shift towards agroecology, where farming works in harmony with nature, farmers and farmworkers are paid fairly and live well, and systems of production and consumption are localised"
The last six months have followed a grimly predictable pattern, as the detail of the Green Deal policies that the European Commission has announced as part of its ‘Man on the Moon’ moment have fallen short of the urgent and radical action we need to stop climate and ecological collapse.
The Green Deal’s Circular Economy Action Plan included some headline-grabbing policies to make products more sustainable but failed to commit to targets to reduce the amount of resources we consume.
Its climate package delayed meaningful action until after 2030 – by which point irreversible climate breakdown will likely be locked in. Its ‘Just Transition mechanism’ to support workers and communities in the transition to clean energy contains loopholes which would allow it to fund climate-wrecking fossil gas.
We had hoped the Farm to Fork strategy would buck this trend. Our hope now is that the voices inside and outside the Berlaymont asking for genuine actions to tackle the ecological, climate and farming crises will get louder and lead to a real transformation of our food and farming system.