The European Parliament is expected to soon adopt its position on the Farm to Fork Strategy. In the Agriculture and Rural Development and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committees, the discussions on our own initiative report are still ongoing. We are working hard and in a spirit of collaboration and, if everything goes as planned, we should vote on the text in June and bring it to plenary before the summer break. I am confident that we will manage to put an ambitious and balanced report on the table.
In general terms, I share the overall intention of the European Commission: we need to find new ways to reduce agricultural inputs and to enhance our agricultural sustainability. Agriculture can, and must, play a significant role in the fight against climate change and to do so, the Commission is rightly stressing the importance of a more integrated food policy, capable of involving all actors in the supply chain - from producers to transformers and distributors. Responsibility for the transition needs to be spread across all elements of the food chain, not just agriculture.
“Agriculture can, and must, play a significant role in the fight against climate change and to do so, the Commission is rightly stressing the importance of a more integrated food policy, capable of involving all actors in the supply chain”
Having said that, we must take into account the fact that many farmers in Europe are already doing an excellent job: they work with great professionalism and play a vital role by assuring a high level of food safety and animal and plant health within the European Union. With this in mind, we must understand where, and how, our agricultural system can improve. When we rightly ask farmers to reduce their use of pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics, we also need to provide them with the right tools to do so. We should support and accompany them in this transition, to ensure they continue to be economically viable.
Sustainability has three dimensions: environmental, economic and social. In this regard, ensuring the availability of food supplies at reasonable prices for consumers must continue to be a priority. However, this doesn’t necessarily imply that productivity must remain at its current levels. The agricultural sector could reduce its productivity, if only we managed to address the food waste challenge. In any case, it is important that the EU continues to play its essential role in feeding not just our continent, but also the entire planet. As one of the world’s biggest suppliers of agricultural products, the EU provides an important contribution to the fight against world hunger.
Moreover, if we want to succeed in the transition towards a more sustainable agricultural model, we need to look at the future, not the past as unfortunately some are doing in the mistaken conviction that the best agriculture is that of yesterday. The only way to both enhance sustainability and maintain our productivity is by investing in innovation. New breeding techniques, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence: we need more research and development in these fields if we want to use less water, less impactful chemicals and ever-more-resistant plants. New technologies are part of the solution, not part of the problem. On these issues, I believe that the Commission’s proposal remains too vague and unclear. It just says that improvements must be done, but it doesn’t explain how.
However, I have the impression that things are timidly starting to move forward. The Commission recently said that it intends to initiate a policy action on plants derived from new breeding techniques. In the European Parliament there is a growing awareness that these technologies can contribute to sustainable food systems and, in this sense, I am confident that we are ready to work constructively on these topics. Besides that, I believe that a second big improvement can be made to the Commission’s proposal: the strategy needs more of a consumer emphasis. Consumers play a major role in the transition towards more sustainable agriculture, and they must be fully conscious of that.
We can’t just impose targets with regards to the surface area for organic cultivation, because these are good only as long as consumers buy organic products.
“Sustainability has three dimensions: environmental, economic and social. In this regard, ensuring the availability of food supplies at reasonable prices for consumers must continue to be a priority”
Consumers shouldn’t just say that they want more organic products; they need to demonstrate this with their spending habits. From an economic point of view, lower productivity of organic agriculture will translate into more expensive products. This additional cost must be paid, at least in part, by the consumer. Farmers cannot bear this cost and taxpayers can only partially do it.
As lawmakers, we must be clear about that with our constituencies: more sustainable products will come with a slight price increase. This also makes sense when it comes to the fight against food waste, which is related to the fact that today some foodstuff is simply too cheap. A fairer price is key in both promoting a more responsible use of agricultural products and in ensuring that farmers receive remuneration that is commensurate with their efforts.