With a large majority, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution supporting one of the cornerstones of the European Commission’s Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy.
The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) committees worked together on Parliament’s contribution to a strategy that aims to bring the agricultural sector together with consumer and food policy in a greener and more sustainable way.
For ENVI rapporteur Anja Hazekamp (NL, The Left), the vote represented nothing less than a paradigm shift: “Parliament has recognised that intensive livestock farming increases the risk of zoonoses [infectious diseases originating in animals and infecting humans]. This is a historic moment because until now criticism of intensive livestock farming was taboo in Brussels”.
The Dutch Partij voor de Dieren (Animal Party) member added, "Our food system needs to be reformed to function within the carrying capacity of our Earth. Intensive meat production and large-scale mono-cultures are currently too great a burden on humans, animals, the environment and the climate. The solution is food production that is more sustainable, healthy, animal-friendly and local”.
The S&D Group’s First Vice-President Eric Andrieu (FR), called Farm to Fork an “ambitious plan that could allow Europe to keep its environmental promises and biodiversity protection” and, highlighted that “with binding objectives for member states, Farm to Fork defends the precautionary principle for new GMOs and defends mandatory nutritional labelling”.
Sarah Wiener, the Greens/EFA Group’s ENVI shadow rapporteur, agreed about the ground breaking nature of Farm to Fork, as the strategy “is the first to take a holistic view of food production in EU policy, from the ground to the field to the plate”.
“Parliament has recognised that intensive livestock farming increases the risk of zoonoses [infectious diseases originating in animals and infecting humans]. This is a historic moment because until now criticism of intensive livestock farming was taboo in Brussels” ENVI rapporteur Anja Hazekamp MEP
The Austrian MEP also pointed to the aspects brought to the resolution by her group, such as concrete reduction targets for the use of pesticides, a demand for better animal welfare standards and clear targets for reducing antibiotics in animal husbandry.
Parliament’s biggest group, the EPP, was not united on the issue, with a majority voting in favour but a significant number also voting against or abstaining.
The EPP spokesman on agriculture Herbert Dorfmann (IT) led the report for the AGRI committee and voted for the resolution but also pointed to the one grievance and the one demand that both the group’s supporters and critics of the strategy as it stands share: "It is scandalous that Commission Vice-President Timmermans has tried to keep the study on the consequences of its Farm to Fork Strategy a secret just because the results were not what he wanted! We insist on a thorough impact assessment on the effects of the strategy before we agree on any new EU laws"
The study was eventually published in July, and many MEPs complained that it was too late to be able to fully reflect it in Parliament’s resolution.
Frans Timmermans did not participate in the plenary debate on Farm to Fork on Monday evening, and the Commission was represented instead by Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
While recognising the strategy as “an opportunity to make the European food chain more sustainable”, the EPP’s ENVI shadow rapporteur Christine Schneider warned, “We must not jeopardise our secure food supply in Europe, which can provide farmers with an appropriate livelihood. Thorough legal impact assessments are essential for this”.
Her group’s main achievement, the German deputy stated, had been to ensure “that this strategy has not become one of prohibition, but that incentives are being set up which affect every link in the food supply chain.” Schneider concluded that “the real work lies ahead of us now, because this strategy is just the beginning."
"We must not jeopardise our secure food supply in Europe, which can provide farmers with an appropriate livelihood. Thorough legal impact assessments are essential for this. The real work lies ahead of us now, because this strategy is just the beginning" EPP ENVI shadow rapporteur Christine Schneider MEP
The critics of Parliament’s resolution within the EPP Group mainly came from the French and the Spanish delegations with French AGRI member Anne Sander saying, “I voted against the "Farm to Table" strategy. Our attempts to rebalance the text, taking into account the uncertainties existing on its impact, were rejected by a majority. I refuse to give a blank check to the Commission which is not playing fair.”
The resolution was also subject to concentrated stakeholders’ efforts to see their interests represented. Slovak EPP and ENVI member Michal Wiezik tweeted: “I was surprised by the intensity of lobbying from big Agri interests”.
The Greens pointed, in particular, to the biggest European agricultural sector association, and were happy to report that its efforts went largely ignored. Austrian MEP Thomas Waitz tweeted: “We defeated all attempts from @COPACOGECA of watering the text down!”.
His Portuguese colleague Francisco Guerreiro, vice-chair of the AGRI committee, said that Parliament had succeeded in “putting @COPACOGECA’s dirty lobbying to a corner”.
Next up for ENVI and AGRI is the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will be voted on in the second plenary session in November.