Since coming into office, the current European Commission (EC) has made the delivering of the Green Deal and its subsequent strategies its battle cry. As the food system is believed to be responsible for a range of impacts on human health as well as on biodiversity and climate, the Commission published in May 2020 an ambitious proposal for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system by 2030: the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F).
A series of measures proposed in this strategy targets primary food producers including a legally binding 50% reduction target in chemical pesticides’ use, an aspirational target of 50% reduction in nutrient losses and 20% reduction in fertilizers’ use as well as a target of increasing up to 25% of European agricultural land under organic farming, all by 2030. Parliament has been pushing to have these targets written into law as soon as possible. As a result, the EC quickly launched the process for the revision of the Sustainable Use Directive and the design of an Organic Farming Action Plan. By participating in consultations on both publications, ELO welcomed the Commission’s ambition to strengthen the rules on hazardous chemical pesticides as well as its will to push for more organic farming based on a growing interest from consumers. However, ELO expressed its concerns regarding the lack of facts-based studies and methodology to explain the numbers behind those targets. The Commission’s proposals lack clarity about the intended and unintended consequences of such targets.
On the issue of pesticides, ELO has emphasized the need for farmers to access efficient and affordable alternatives to chemicals falling under stricter regulation. Reasonable alternatives have to be available in due time, that is before chemical pesticides are taken off the market. This is closely linked to the capacity of the EU to invest and develop innovative solutions for farming such as new genomic techniques which ELO strongly supports.
When consulted on the Organic Action Plan for promoting a better uptake of organic farming in the EU, ELO warned that such a dramatic shift from conventional to organic farming could have unintended consequences. An increased competition in organic food production will challenge the existing premium price on organic products, leading to an increased income instability for farmers. Furthermore, in order to equal our current food production under 25% of organic farming, a shift in land use will be necessary and untouched areas could be required to be used for farming. This will without a doubt affect the quality of the European biodiversity. ELO therefore advised that the EC conducts a feasibility study on the compatibility between the different targets and other objectives of the Green Deal ie. biodiversity conservation, fair income for farmers, food security etc.
ELO was pleased to hear that the Commission will conduct impact-assessments before proposing legally binding targets linked to the F2F, including the pesticides’ reduction target. 2021 will be the year during which ELO will voice the farmers’ needs for plant protection products and ensure that the new SUD to be adopted in 2022 will be fit for purpose. As supported by Parliament, the EC will now conduct an impact-assessment of the EU food system as a whole, providing the basis for developing a comprehensive legislative proposal for a “European sustainable food system” with the ambition to be the first region with a climate neutral food system. This will be the opportunity for ELO to reaffirm landowners’ and farmers’ position in the food supply chain during 2021.