While EU Member States struggle with the COVID-19 crisis, agribusiness and conservative forces are taking advantage of the situation by trying to significantly dilute Commission President von der Leyen’s European Green Deal and the new Farm to Fork strategy.
Their goal: to preserve the current system of subsidies in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which favours agribusiness and agro-industries over small-scale farming and sustainable agriculture.
The Farm to Fork strategy is central to the building of a more resilient EU food system. This ambitious strategy is an important landmark for the next CAP, under negotiation in the European Parliament since mid-2018, following the Commission’s initial proposal.
Implemented successfully, it would mean finally updating agricultural subsidies so that they support environmental protection: public money for public environmental services should be the guiding principle.
The Commission was meant to publish the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in late April. The development of both was presented in the frame of the European Green Deal in December 2019 by the newly-elected von der Leyen.
Such an ambitious plan to protect the climate, the environment and future generations is an unprecedented move, and has been widely supported by civil society organisations.
It triggered a critical behind-the-scenes reaction from the agribusiness industry to undermine it, aided by both conservative groups in the Parliament and by key public servants in the Commission.
Rather than resisting these pressures, the Commission has postponed the publication of both strategies for the second time.
The new (potential) deadline is 20 May 2020. Meanwhile, leaked documents have shown that the initial ambitious objective to mandate reducing pesticide use in Member States has been eroded. Now we face ending up with weak policy documents full of large loopholes.
“Who exactly are these conservatives really protecting when they insist on maintaining the status quo in Europe’s agriculture policy?”
Lobbyists continue to try and severely undermine ambitions to make EU food and farming more sustainable, especially during this ‘recovery’ phase of COVID-19. The Coronavirus and climate crises have shown us the dangers and limitations of globalised, industrial agriculture.
The pandemic badly disrupted supply and production chains, as well as labour migration when Member States closed their borders.
At the same time, industrial agriculture continues to put an enormous strain on our environment every day, driving the climate crisis. In contrast, regional, small-scale and sustainable farms are far more resilient in times of crisis and strengthen our wider economic and environmental resilience to future crises.
They are more independent from global production chains and therefore less vulnerable to disruption. They operate more ecologically and preserve resources, use fewer pesticides and fertilisers and produce healthier food, supporting our transition to a climate-friendly future.
They also promote a healthier human-animal relationship by creating more animal-friendly conditions. Yet they are under pressure: every day more than 1000 farmers are forced to give up, a loss of 400,000 small-scale farms each year in Europe - and this was before COVID-19.
So, who exactly are these conservatives really protecting when they insist on maintaining the status quo in Europe’s agriculture policy? This crisis should be used as an opportunity to reflect and promote sustainable agriculture.
We urgently need a refocus of the CAP towards an ecological subsidy system. We need a robust, long-term climate-friendly food model with short regional supply chains, fair production and good working conditions for everybody involved, helping build our food sovereignty.
Parliament must now decide who will drive the future of our agriculture: local and sustainable farmers, building a resilient food production system, or a destructive intensive industrial agriculture designed to deliver short-term benefits?