Since its release, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy has been repeatedly attacked and questioned by industrial farm lobbies, a number of conservative MEPs, and agri-business firms, which the publication of two controversial “impact studies” has only kept fueling. But what they always omit to say, is that these studies are partial and incomplete.
Two Misleading Studies Attack the Farm to Fork Strategy
Back in 2020, the European Commission published the European Union (EU) Farm to Fork Strategy, a 10-year plan to drive the transition to a fair, healthy, and environment-friendly food system in Europe, which was approved by a wide majority of Members of the European Parliament (MEP) last October. Slow Food considers this strategy crucial to protecting our environment, farmers, and our health, as it aims to promote agroecology, sustainable diets, decrease the use and risks of pesticides, and recognizes the need to move towards less and better meat, among other important goals.
To @EP_Environment & @EP_Agriculture: the #EUFarm2Fork Strategy’s targets are indeed ambitious, yet unavoidable if the EU is really serious about tackling #ClimateChange, and wants to bring #FoodSystems back within #planetaryboundaries. @EUAgri @EU_FPC @Food_EU @pcanfin pic.twitter.com/8hXBm90OSl
— Slow Food Europe (@SlowFoodEurope) January 25, 2022
From the perspective of the common good, the environment and public health, this EU’s first step towards greener and sustainable food systems in Europe is great news.
Yet, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy has been repeatedly attacked and questioned by industrial farm lobbies, a number of conservative MEPs, and agri-business firms, which the publication of two controversial and incomplete “impact studies” has only kept fueling. These studies published by the USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture) and Wageningen University & Research attempted to evaluate the Farm to Fork’s economic impact and concluded that the proposed changes would lay the ground for a significant reduction in EU agricultural productivity, competitiveness and farmers’ income.
Such conclusions did not fall on deaf ears: corporate lobbies have been using them to paint apocalyptic scenarios ever since they were published and attempting to derail the EU’s strategy for a sustainable food system.
Assessing the Farm to Fork Strategy Means Going Beyond the Economic Impacts
What the critics of the Farm to Fork Strategy omit to say, is that these studies are partial and incomplete. Partial because, as noted by IPES-Food, Corporate Europe Observatory, and the European Consumer Organization (BEUC), the study published by Wageningen University was sponsored by CropLife Europe of the pesticide industry.
Incomplete, because they only consider the impacts the Strategy may have on food production, whilst ignoring the changes in consumer behaviour that would result from the strategies’ other objectives. “We cannot take seriously a study commissioned by the agro-chemical lobby, and the same applies to a study realized by a government known for its obsession with agricultural productivity. They want to preserve the status quo.”, reacted Member of the EU Parliament (MEP) from the Greens Tilly Metz, during an EU parliamentary hearing last month. She also rightly added that to preserve our long-term food sovereignty, we must quickly change our food system to make it fairer and sustainable.
#EUFarm2Fork hearing, Panel 1:”When we did this study, we had not much information for an analysis. We didn´t include organic production, animal welfare, environmental positive impacts.”
So, the USDA study foresees impacts on prices, productivity & trade without a full picture.🗑️ https://t.co/K81EiHFGXP
— EU Food Policy Coalition (@EU_FPC) January 25, 2022
These studies refuse to acknowledge the changes already happening, from initiatives to tackle food waste to shifts in people’s diets and to farmers turning to nature-friendly agriculture. The EU Farm to Fork Strategy is a tool to accelerate and facilitate these mutations and transform the way we produce and eat food in a systemic way.
“Modelling the impacts of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy should look at the complete picture, including positive sustainability impacts from the dietary changes that are deeply needed. If we move towards diets that contain fewer animal products, embrace social innovation and rethink current trade policy, the strategy’s targets are realistic!”, commented Pierre-Marie Aubert from the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). IDDRI’s own modelling work yielded very different results from the previously mentioned studies – agroecological farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and protecting biodiversity.
The High Costs of Inaction
Those who wish to preserve the status quo forget an important question: what are the costs of doing nothing? “Business as usual means more degradation of the environment and consequently a lower quality of life for our citizens”, answers MEP Biljana Borzan from the Social and Democrats Group. This is indeed no secret: our current model of food production and consumption is responsible for a fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, land degradation, climate change, diet-related illnesses – you name it.
The agro-industry claims that reducing the use of pesticides, and developing nature-friendly alternatives will lead to food shortages and hunger in Europe, but what food security can we reasonably hope for if we let nature – our only life source, degrade to the point of no-return? In a recent report by the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), points out the need to act without further delay: “To become sustainable, there needs to be a paradigm shift, away from a productivist view & towards the ultimate purpose of the food system: long-term food security for everyone in the EU, without the current threats to the environment & people”. On the long term, industrial and polluting agriculture can only cause more environmental damage and socio-economic inequalities, certainly not guarantee food security.
Sustainability is No Enemy of Farmers and Consumers
What’s more, the unprecedented productivity gains in agriculture since 1945 have benefited the agri-food industry and mass retail at the expense of farmers, a fact which has not been mentioned by opponents to the strategy in recent debates. Yet, as Thomas Waitz (MEP) from the Green Group observed at an event organized hosted by the media Euractiv, “Right now, farmers receive a very small share of money because food production costs are very low and that’s the key problem. If we help farmers receive a bigger share of the cake, this problem can be solved”.
And this is one of the goals of the Farm to Fork Strategy: support farmers in their transition towards sustainable agriculture by drastically reducing the use of external inputs (synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics) which represent a financial abyss and a high dependency on agri-corporations. “Sustainable agriculture doesn’t go against food security, and the two concepts can be reconciled. Farmers are part of the solution, and we have to push forward for sustainability together with them”, asserts Claire Bury (European Commission) at that same Euractiv debate. Indeed, agroecological farming is the future, but farmers need proper European and national support to thrive!
The road to the full implementation of the EU’s ambitious Farm to Fork Strategy will be difficult as agri-food lobbies will continue to try to delay and block any ambitious action from being taken. However, the transition to agroecological food systems is unavoidable to respond to today’s crises and represents a great opportunity to help build a better future.