Last week, the European Commission published the long-awaited Farm to Fork Strategy. The strategy, part of the European Green Deal – the most environmentally ambitious legislation proposal of the new Commission, which started its five-year term in December last year. The Strategy aims to make the European food system more sustainable across different dimensions and to reduce its impact on third countries. So far, the Farm to Fork Strategy has received an overall positive reaction from civil society, which recognizes the ambition of the Strategy and its targets, and the comprehensive approach that was taken to create it. The Strategy touches upon many sectors from agriculture to food labeling and needs to be unwrapped to understand why it is vital for the future of European Food Systems.
We have written down a few key aspects that are important to know about the Farm to Fork Strategy.
What is the Farm to Fork Strategy, and who will have to follow it?
The Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) is a new comprehensive 10-year plan published by the European Commission to drive the transition to a fair, healthy, and environmentally-friendly food system in Europe. It is the first real EU attempt to design a Food Policy that proposes measures and targets for each stage of the food chain, from production to distribution to consumption, in order to make European food systems more sustainable. Every EU Member State will have to follow it by implementing it on a national level, contributing to reach the EU targets, and will benefit from any additional support measures.
The Farm to Fork Strategy stands in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and also aims at raising standards globally, through international cooperation and trade policies so that its ecological transition is not offset by the externalization of unsustainable practices in other regions.
What are the most important objectives of this strategy?
The main objectives of this strategy are:
- Ensuring sustainable food production;
- Ensuring food security;
- Stimulating sustainable food processing, wholesale, retail, hospitality and food services practices;
- Promoting sustainable food consumption and facilitating the shift to healthy, sustainable diets;
- Reducing food loss and waste;
- Combating food fraud along the food supply chain.
In order to reach these objectives, the Strategy must enable the transition through investments in research, innovation, advisory services, data, skills, and knowledge sharing. Finally, it details how the EU can promote the transition globally.
Some flagship targets, which are considered essential to reach the objectives and some of which are also reflected Biodiversity Strategy, are:
- a reduction by 50% of the use and risk of chemical pesticides, and the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030,
- a reduction of nutrient losses by at least 50% while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility. This will reduce the use of fertilizers by at least 20% by 2030,
- a reduction of overall EU sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and aquaculture of 50% by 2030,
- reaching 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030.
Has the EU had a Farm to Fork strategy or Food strategy before?
This is the first time the EU is putting forward a Farm to Fork strategy for sustainable food systems, in the attempt to create a comprehensive policy around food. So far policy has been sectorial, tackling food-related issues through separate (as oftentimes incompatible) policies: agriculture, environment, health, trade, etc. Slow Food has been calling for a Common Food Policy for years, as a holistic approach is essential to achieve a radical change in the food system, by addressing in a coordinated manner not only food production, farming, and trade, but also food and environmental quality, health, resource and land management, ecology, social and cultural values, and the entire agricultural and food market chain.
Does it have a binding power over Member States?
The Farm to Fork overall is not binding. However, it will gain a binding power over Member States through the implementation of targets and objectives, set in the strategy. The objectives and targets will be implemented via different legislative measures, the creation of new policies, and the alignment of existing ones, such as the Common Agricultural Policy.
How will the targets in the Farm to Fork Strategy be achieved?
Ambitious targets are not enough if they are not accompanied by concrete support measures to reach them. Knowledge, training, and a shift of financial support will be key to enabling all actors in the food system to become more sustainable by developing alternatives to chemical pesticides, complying with labeling schemes, etc. The Strategy proposes several reforms of existing policies in order to achieve the targets: a review of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive and of the Animal Welfare regulation among others. In addition, the new targets and objectives will also need to be reflected in the Common Agricultural Policy, through ambitious national strategic plans that are currently being developed by each country. By 2023 the Commission will make a legislative proposal for a framework for a sustainable food system in order to help align national policies and ensure coherence among all food-related policies.
How will the strategy impact Europe’s agriculture and the food we buy and eat?
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to help European Agriculture shift in the next years to more sustainable practices by reducing the use of external inputs (such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers) and by working more in harmony with the environment to produce our food. The food chain will be more transparent to consumers, by providing more information about the nutritional aspects and the origin of the food through better labeling. The strategy proposes some measures to make healthy and sustainable food more economically and physically accessible to everyone; public institutions such as schools and hospitals will have to serve more sustainable food thanks to stricter public procurement standards. Finally, companies will need to take measures to reduce their environmental footprint and reformulate their food products in line with guidelines for healthy, sustainable diets.
How will this strategy support EU’s farmers and fishers?
The Farm to Fork Strategy aims to reward those farmers, fishers, and other operators in the food chain who have already undergone the transition to sustainable practices and will engage in enabling the transition for the others by creating additional opportunities for their businesses. It is important to emphasize that the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will remain key tools to support the transition to sustainable food systems while ensuring a decent living for farmers, fishers and their families. The Farm to Fork Strategy remains vague on the concrete steps farmers and businesses will have to take in order to be granted the support. It is also unclear what instruments will enable the transition and how each category will define sustainability goals.
Can this strategy be changed and improved?
The Strategy is a long term plan for the next 10 years and will rely on the implementation and revision of a great number of specific policies. Whilst the core commitments are likely to remain as is, it will be important for civil society to closely monitor the developments of the Farm to Fork Strategy and give inputs on the different policy reforms.
What is Slow Food’s position on this strategy?
Overall, Slow Food believes that the Farm to Fork Strategy represents the opportunity to set in motion the transformative change we need to build sustainable food systems and to protect our environment, farmers, and our health. The strategy touches upon many essential aspects such as promoting agroecology, sustainable diets, and the need to move towards less and better meat. These are the ideas that Slow Food has been advocating and promoting for years.
However, Slow Food regrets that a concept of new GMO has been included in the Farm to Fork strategy, despite the European Court of Justice ruling. Slow Food also believes that the pesticide reduction targets of 50% are still too low to reverse unprecedented pollinator extinction rates.