What Lies Ahead for the EU’s Food and Farming Systems After Covid-19?

25 Jun 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many business sectors, and agriculture and food production aren’t an exception. This week, Slow Food president Carlo Petrini, European Commission’s Vice President Frans Timmermans, responsible for the European Green Deal, and Dacian Cioloş, president of Renew Europe, the third biggest political group in the European Parliament, participated in an online discussion “Food Hubs, Good Food – European Perspectives”. 

Speakers addressed the difficulties and opportunities that food and agricultural sectors face, the need to stay resilient, and the importance of pursuing green recovery. 

While we encourage you to watch the full online webinar organized by MEP Dacian Cioloş, we summarize the most important messages of each speaker. 

Frans Timmermans: We Need to Be in Balance with the Environment


Timmermans: I believe that many people have seen how vulnerable we are and that our health is not something that is assured. The way we eat has a direct impact on our health. We have this incredible agricultural sector, which has been so resilient, and European farmers kept food on our tables during this crisis. But at the same time, we are not future-proof. In the future, we will have to be more in balance with our natural environment. For agriculture, this means using a lot less pesticides, a lot less medication in animal husbandry, being much more health-oriented, and also, indeed, using digital tools for precision agriculture. I think our consumers want to know what they are eating and where their food comes from. So we will have to do a few things: we will have to make sure that we reward farmers who transition to sustainable agriculture. We need to develop an eco-scheme so that we can help them to do that. We need to make sure that farmers’ income is guaranteed, and that European subsidies go to European farmers and not to big landowners. 

The Vice-President for the European Green Deal also emphasized the importance of continued efforts to fight climate change and addressed criticism that wealthy countries are pushing for the green agenda and more strict measures while poorer countries are struggling economically. 

Timmermans: If we do not do something about the climate crisis, we will have droughts and floods. Farmers will be out of business. We will have less food in Europe, and we will have erratic weather. Rich people, they can go somewhere else. People who are poor can’t. So the biggest victims of the climate crisis are the poorest people. I’ll never allow anybody to say that the climate crisis is a rich person’s game. 

Carlo Petrini: We Have a Historic Opportunity


Meanwhile, Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food, talked about how the narrative around food and agriculture is changing in the face of Covid-19. 

Petrini: Now, many people, including young people, want to come back to agriculture. This is a trend that we need to analyze very carefully. We should start by changing a few beliefs. The first belief is related to small-scale farmers. The assumption is that they are not productive enough and that they do not make revenue. But let me tell you that in the entire world there are 500 mln small-scale farms. And those small farms actually provide food for 75 percent of the world population. Small-scale farms are not well organized, unfortunately, and are scattered around the globe. Of course, we are happy to see that the EU is now giving attention to small-scale farms. And it is important not only on the food and agricultural level but also on the political level. Over the past few years, we have been faced with three crises: the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and, currently, the pandemic crisis. None of these three crises will be solved completely unless we shift the paradigm, unless we move towards the economy which rests on the common good, unless we take into account the environment, food sovereignty, tourism, and fair prices. We shouldn’t just look at the production and production only. The Covid-19 crisis is tightly related to the environmental and economic crises, which will continue to affect us unless we take joint action. If we keep wasting time, we will miss the opportunity right in front of us. Now, we have a historic opportunity. 

Dacian Cioloş: We Need to See how Political Commitments Could Be Translated into Practical Measures


Dacian Cioloş, MEP and president of Renew Europe discussed if the EU is resilient enough and how the EU’s food and farming systems can change in the future. 

Cioloş: I think there is a new paradigm emerging, which, alongside productivity, introduces new elements such as health and food security. More questions also arise, such as how we produce food so that we do not destroy biodiversity or that people who work in the farms earn enough. If we look around us and our recent history in the EU, we see that agricultural models have not been considered economically sustainable so far. But our mindset is changing. We should try and see how political statements and commitments could be translated into practical measures. When we talk about local food systems, we should answer how we should use digital technologies to improve the situation. Technologies can completely change the relationships between the producer and the consumer. Technologies can help to shorten the food chain and provide transparency as we’ve never had before. They can show you where certain products are from, and they can give producers access to many more consumers than before.

Another thing which is very interesting to me is the common European market. We talk about it a lot, but I think it is important to understand that local markets and food markets are part of the common European market. If we stimulate local markets, consumption of seasonal products, and local food chains, if we abandon long-distance transport of products that can be provided locally, then all of this would lead to change in paradigm.

Cioloş also addressed how the EU should support the food and farming sectors that have been affected by the pandemic, in the short and long term. 

Cioloş: If we look at the general level, you see that there are sectors that are slower to react to the sudden decrease in consumption. And I am thinking of animal rearing in particular. This sector is in a more difficult situation than vegetable farming, for instance, as it is easier to change a crop from one year to the next. But when you are rearing animals, you cannot change as quickly, just because the demand has decreased. That’s why it is vital to help those farmers who are affected by the Covid-19 crisis the most so that they can maintain their businesses. That’s a short-term measure, but we need to have measures that would connect those farmers to these changing markets for a longer-term. 

Watch the full broadcast here:


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