Despite major concerns from farmers, the European Union’s proposed Farm to Fork strategy received a show of support from members of the European Parliament last week.
The policy, which the European Commission says is aimed at making the EU’s food systems “fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly,” would introduce significant restrictions to the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, and antimicrobials used on European farms by 2030.
The 27 actions proposed in the strategy include the following:
- a 50% reduction in the use and risk of pesticides (with 2020 serving as the base year);
- a 20% reduction in the use of fertilizers, including manure;
- a 50% reduction in sales of antimicrobials or antibiotics used for farm animals and aquaculture; and
- requiring 25% of agricultural land be farmed under organic practices (an increase current level of around 8%.)
- a 10% reduction in farmland used for growing crops.
452 members of the European Parliament voted in favour of a report on the Farm to Fork strategy on October 19, with 170 members voting against, and 76 abstaining.
While the vote gives an indication of the direction the Parliament would like to go, “it cannot be, by no means, understood as a final conclusion of the process. Rather it is just the beginning, like opening remarks, across the various policy fields,” says Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Europe’s largest farm group, Copa-Cogeca, in the interview below.
An end result of reduced crop yields and increased food imports into Europe would be the worst case scenario, says Pesonen, speaking with RealAgriculture from Copa-Cogeca’s headquarters in Brussels.
“We will fight to the teeth to avoid it,” he says.
Listen to Pekka Pesonen, secretary general for Copa-Cogeca, discuss the European Parliament’s vote on the Farm to Fork policy and the impact it could potentially have:
As part of that fight, Copa-Cogeca and other farm groups in Europe are strongly urging the European Commission to publish a comprehensive report on the impact of the actions listed in the Farm to Fork proposal. To date, the most in-depth analysis has been done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private industry, says Pesonen.
“We find it very difficult to accept that we impose this major policy initiative where the European Union itself refuses to take a look into the consequences,” he says.
“The last thing we need is that we actually outsource our food production to third countries with consequent environmental footprint if we can’t respond sufficiently.”
In a separate statement to the press last week, Copa-Cogeca and more than two dozen other agricultural groups said there are “blind spots” in the debate regarding the “the effects of carbon leakage, European strategic autonomy, and consumer prices.”
If the proposed restrictions are implemented, farmers will need access to different tools, including alternative technologies for protecting crop and livestock health, and reduced regulatory burden in other areas to offset the expected production losses, explains Pesonen.
Europe’s direction with the Farm to Fork policy could also have significant implications for farmers and agricultural exporters in Canada.
There would likely be new requirements for selling products to Europe, as the EU would look to impose similar standards on imports. “We need to have a level playing field for the European farmers and agricultural cooperatives in order to compete with imports,” stresses Pesonen.
The Farm to Fork strategy could also influence future Canadian farm and food policy, as the federal government has a track record of looking to Europe for policy ideas, especially when it comes to climate-related initiatives.
While the U.S. government has been critical of the EU’s Farm to Fork approach, the Canadian government has not publicly committed to joining a “coalition for sustainable productivity growth” that U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack has been promoting to counter the European approach.
Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau appeared virtually on a panel with Vilsack and Mexico’s Agriculture Minister Víctor Villalobos as part of the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa last week. As part of the panel discussion, Vilsack spoke about philosophical differences between the U.S. and EU, referring to the Farm to Fork initiative. He also said both Canada and Mexico have been invited to join the U.S.-led coalition of countries focused on boosting agricultural productivity.