As a key part of the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy is one of the European Commission’s most crucial policy agendas for the coming years. The Strategy aims to develop a more sustainable food system, from production all the way to consumption. It not only comprehensively addresses our food system challenges but also puts us on a path to meeting the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality objective as well as the Sustainable Development Goals, implemented though an Action Plan with 27 policy measures that will be adopted between now and 2024.
In the European Parliament right now, we are working with the rapporteurs in both the Agriculture and Environment Committees with the aim of to reaching joint agreements on the more than 2200 amendments to the Strategy that have been presented by MEPs. The vote is scheduled to take place at a joint meeting of the AGRI and ENVI Committees on 3 June.
“I believe first and foremost that food should remain affordable for everyone as well as sustainable and that greater emphasis is needed on educating and informing rather than imposing”
It is on the ‘Farm’ aspect where the Strategy proposes far-reaching changes, with Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans demanding that this be included in the new Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) regulations, negotiations on which have not yet been finalised. These are desirable and necessary objectives, but they lack any impact assessment of their economic, social, and environmental consequences. Yet these objectives will likely still be inserted into the legislative texts.
In my opinion, this is a major problem, and is one of the main areas of concern, together with the fact that these proposals, including future decisions, should be based on science, and not on other issues. While on the ‘Fork’ aspect, I believe first and foremost that food should remain affordable for everyone as well as sustainable and that greater emphasis is needed on educating and informing rather than imposing.
On ‘production’, action can be taken through the CAP but in the rest of the food chain it is not always so easy to translate percentages or measures into enforceable actions, particularly when the decision is left to a consumer who is not always willing, or able, to pay a higher price for animal welfare or environmental protection, even if they value both issues.
The EU’s agricultural sector is the only one in the world that has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions and use of antibiotics while also introducing animal welfare standards and environmental protections. The CAP has evolved in this direction after successive reforms, despite farmers facing competition from third country products entering the European market through EU trade agreements, and where the same social and environmental standards are not always required from the producers of these products. Let us hope that this issue is corrected in the EU’s trade policy following the debate on this Strategy.
However, despite the changes already made in European agriculture and livestock farming, new measures will have to be taken. This applies to all other economic sectors too, particularly transport, energy, tourism and fishing, especially if we are to succeed in the fight against climate change.
Another aspect of the Farm to Fork debate is the establishment of a mandatory European Nutrition Labelling System. In my opinion, some of the current examples, such as Nutriscore or others based on a traffic light system are too simplistic and many people are sceptical about the suitability of the algorithms being employed. Therefore, the Commission should evaluate and present what they believe would be the best nutrition labelling system for the whole of Europe and ensure it is enforced.
“The Commission needs to establish a new legal framework to facilitate NBT commercialisation, provided that all necessary guarantees are in place to ensure health and food safety standards are met”
Member State authorisations granting flexibility towards VAT rates on food with different health and environmental impacts is another area of concern, as is the debate over what are the most appropriate measures for promoting sustainable food consumption and driving the shift to healthy and sustainable diets. These measures include the reformulation of products, restricting the consumption of fat, sugars and salt and decreasing the consumption of red meat through diets based on a higher vegetable consumption.
It is also important to bear in mind that other issues such as food waste and the different measures available for reducing it is another essential element in the debate, along with whether to use New Breeding Techniques (NBT) to help achieve adequate sustainability in European agriculture. The Commission needs to establish a new legal framework to facilitate NBT commercialisation, provided that all necessary guarantees are in place to ensure health and food safety standards are met. This is undoubtedly a very controversial issue because of society’s opposition to Genetically Modified Organisms, and the interest of some parties in assimilating NBTs into them.
We have a difficult and important debate ahead of us that will mark the regulatory changes and political action of the EU for the next decade. But, that debate is crucial if we want to achieve a healthier, more balanced, and sustainable food system for the whole of Europe.