No overall impact assessment of the EU’s pivotal food policy, the Farm to Fork, is in the pipeline but each measure in the strategy will be separately evaluated, a European Commission official has said.
Speaking at a recent EURACTIV event, the deputy director-general at the Commission’s DG SANTE, Claire Bury, said the EU executive does not have proper impact assessments on documents like the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F).
“There are about 37 different measures in the strategy. And for each of them, as we come forward with the proposals, we will have an impact assessment,” she said.
She announced, for instance, that there will be a separate impact assessment on the overall target for pesticides set up in the strategy, as well as on nutritional information in the harmonised food labelling and on animal welfare labelling.
Over the past few months, the lack of an initial impact study to accompany the unveiling of the strategy was highly criticised by the European farmers’ lobby.
“Without an impact assessment, no decision can be made. And if negative aspects come up, they must be reviewed in the strategy,” said Christiane Lambert, chair of farmers association COPA.
The EU’s Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, made a similar remark before the French Senate in July as he opened the possibility of revising F2F’s ambitious targets at a later stage if food security is threatened.
The European Parliament’s largest political group, centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), has also called for a thorough impact assessment before starting any reforms within the context of the F2F.
The EPP’s agriculture coordinator, Herbert Dorfmann, told the EURACTIV event that although we are aware that the F2F is “a genuine strategy”, more precision is needed when it comes to getting into details of the strategy.
“And we need to look at what is really the starting point today,” the Italian MEP added.
All the speakers agreed that an integrated and demand-driven approach, which takes into account both food affordability and consumers’ expectations, is key to making Europe a global leader on food sustainability.
According to the Commission’s Claire Bury, Europe needs a “collective action” that must involve public authorities, both at the EU and national level, as well as all the actors across the food chain and NGOs.
“We really need everyone to come together here and pull in the same direction,” she said.
However, EPP’s Dorfmann warned of the risk that the strategy, as it is now, is still too farmer-oriented. “Figures and numbers mostly refer to the ‘farm’ and less to the ‘fork’ side, the consumers’ one.”
The lawmaker, who is also the rapporteur at the European Parliament on the F2F, said the strategy does not really bring forward new ideas on what consumers think about food or how important they consider food.
“Farmers and food producers are important but we have to look at citizens’ expectations if we want to change the system,” he stressed.
According to Jamie Morrison, director of food systems and food safety at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), consumers are seeking out better information about safer foods for healthier diets.
“They’re advocating for more environmentally friendly food products, and also for a reduction and better handling of the waste associated with the food industry,” he said.
However, consumers lack a common understanding of the complex interactions and trade-offs that are intrinsic to food systems.
“We need assessments to improve the understanding of these trade-offs,” he concluded, as this could constrain the ability of societies to identify and implement appropriate pathways to more sustainable systems.
Global v. local
During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the food industry noticed attempts to close the borders and protect local markets.
Silviu Popovici, vice-president of food producers association FoodDrinkEurope, highlighting the need to combine the local value chains with the global value chains at the same time.
“It was great that Europe has kept the borders open and we in the industry have ensured the continuity and supply chain,” he said, stressing the need to protect the EU’s Single Market.
EPP’s Dorfmann also warned of the risks of putting ‘internal barriers’ to the internal market, since some political actors could insist on food nationalism as a way out of the COVID-crisis.
“They tell people that the only way to help farmers is to consume local things because this is helpful for their families too,” he said, adding that, however, European agriculture is heavily involved in both the internal and international market.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]