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Article: European Commission launches Farm to Fork Strategy with four key targets

21 May 2020

This article is taken from our IEG Policy platform dated 20/05/20.

Today (20 May), the European Commission launched its Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy, which aims to drive more sustainable food consumption and production in the EU.

As part of its 2050 climate-neutral Green Deal strategy, the Commission presented its outline for the F2F strategy and included 27 measures to shape more sustainable food chains. This included a range of targets to be achieved by 2030:

  • Pesticides - 50% reduction in the use and risk of chemical and hazardous pesticides
  • Fertilisers - 50% reduction of soil nutrient loss, aimed at reducing fertiliser use by at least 20%
  • Antimicrobials - 50% reduction in sales of antimicrobials for livestock and aquaculture
  • Organic - 5% of EU agricultural land under organic farming

It was presented by Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, while Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski was notably absent.

"COVID-19 has brought into sharper focus the importance of having a resilient food system," said Kyriakides, who will lead the F2F Strategy. She added that it will provide a comprehensive agenda for all stages of food production and consumption.

This includes developing a framework to promote green actions in corporate strategies, monitoring responsible business conduct and a harmonised mandatory front-of-pack labelling to help consumers generate demand for sustainability.

A late controversial element was the inclusion of livestock's impact on the environmental and climate. IHS Markit understands that some Commission officials wanted to address unsustainable consumption and production of animal products, but it faced resistance elsewhere in the EU executive.

But a measure has been included that proposes a review of the EU's promotion programmes for agricultural and food products with a view to enhancing its contribution to sustainable production and consumption, which farming groups and some member states fear will see less meat supported in these schemes.

Security versus sustainability

Agri-food groups have also been worried that the F2F Strategy's proposals on reducing agricultural inputs will see an increase in the cost of food and have negative implications on food supply.

Geraldine Kutas, Director General of the European Crop Protection Association, said that businesses acknowledge the need for pesticide reductions and are open to discuss this, but wanted to see more "realistic" targets.

"A reduction rate of 50% by 2030 is not realistic and will not have the desired effect of having a more sustainable food production model in Europe," she said. "The objectives presented today should be taking the farming industry on a journey to transform, not without sacrifices, but in collaboration with all parties involved in producing our food."

Kyriakides said that all the F2F Strategy's proposals will "of course" be preceded by a risk assessment before trying to implement legally binding rules, although her words will not have appeased everyone.

Norbert Lins, the chair of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, has said that his main focus for the F2F Strategy will be to ensure food security for European citizens. His party, the European People's Party, had pushed for the strategy to be delayed until autumn and today criticised the Commission for pushing for "deep changes to the EU's food production policy" amid COVID-19.

Kyriakides said that: "In no way does this strategy trade off food security with sustainability."

She also recently told agriculture MEPs that it is important to have the F2F strategy in place as soon as possible so the EU executive can influence the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) before it is adopted.

Weak foundation?

The Commission said it will work with member states to align their CAP Strategic Plans with the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy. These policy blueprints outline how national governments intend to meet different farming objectives set at an EU-level, which will need to be approved and monitored by the Commission.

The F2F Strategy specifically considers eco-schemes as a way to offer funding to boost sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, agro-ecology (including organic farming), the creation of landscape features, carbon farming and agro-forestry. Member states and the Commission will have to ensure that eco-schemes are appropriately resourced and implemented in the Strategic Plans.

But IHS Markit understands that this approval process has also created friction within the different directorate generals of the Commission. Some fear that signing off on CAP Strategic Plans will become a political issue and that would see some member states get away with setting lower environmental or social standards.

Environmental groups generally welcomed the Farm to Fork Strategy for its high level of ambition, but some were also left frustrated because it will depend on the CAP to push forward its sustainability ambition at the food producer level.

Earlier, the Strategic Plans have been criticised by over 3,600 scientists for not being strong enough to protect the environment or small producers. Greenpeace used these findings in their recent call for the Commission to scrap its proposals for the next CAP and start again with sustainability at its heart.

Meanwhile, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) has also said that the CAP reform proposals put forward by the Commission are not fit to deliver the necessary ambition in climate and environment, but are less fatalistic.

Celia Nysens, EEB's agricultural policy officer, said: "We are calling on the European Parliament (and Council) to amend it and fix its weaknesses, in line with the Green Deal and Green Recovery. The Commission could also amend its own proposal to fix the key issues, but a completely new proposal is not necessary at this stage."

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