Coronavirus puts on hold unveiling of new EU food policy

MEPs during a debate on Commission's Farm to Fork Strategy in Strasbourg. [EP/MARVAUX]

The launch of the new EU food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), will be delayed at least by another month in light of a rescheduling of the Commission’s work programme due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In its weekly ‘tentative agenda’ for forthcoming Commission meetings on Wednesday (18 March), the Commission pushed back until the 29 April the presentation of the F2F and Biodiversity strategy, both embedded in von der Leyen’s Green Deal.

The new deadline is thus almost one month later than the initial schedule. The date is also to be confirmed and may be subject to change.

Contacted by EURACTIV, a Commission spokesperson said work on the farm to fork and biodiversity strategies is ongoing and both will be presented in the coming weeks.

The chair of the agriculture committee (AGRI) at the European Parliament, the German Christian-democrat Norbert Lins, hailed the decision to postpone the F2F, writing on Twitter that all actors involved deserve to be heard, “especially in times like these, where the security of food supply is very important.”

The deadline for stakeholder consultations has been extended until 20 March. EURACTIV took a look at the contributions submitted so far.

Farmer’s voice

Farmers and agro-cooperatives organisation COPA-COGECA called for the strengthening of the farmers’ position in the food chain, saying that cooperation among farmers engaged in promoting sustainability and ways to fairly share the added value created by sustainable products and actions with producers, need to be supported.

On the same page, the Conseil Européen des Jeunes Agriculteurs (CEJA), representing young farmers, who call for “ambitious generational renewal strategies” in order to address the demographic challenge in the sector, and for more bargaining power for farmers

CEJA also says that the F2F provides an opportunity to “reinforce the sustainability of our food system and to bring farmers closer to consumers,” but warns that the success of the strategy depends on ensuring its key enablers, European farmers, are “acknowledged and given the adequate economic and social perspectives.”

European Coordination Via Campesina, a grassroots organisation representing small and medium-scale farmers, cautioned that although the development of digitisation can be a useful tool, it is important to highlight the elevated costs, and the large amounts of energy and non-renewable metals required, as well as the negative impact on employment.

They ask the Commission to match its ambition with cross-policy commitment and listen to the “thus-far neglected voices of peasants and small and medium-scale farmers.”

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Farmers from across Europe fired up their tractors and drove to Brussels on Thursday (20 February), rallying against proposed cuts in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They also demanded that the EU does not leave them out of the environmental transition requested in the Commission’s new flagship policy, the Green Deal.

Organic agriculture

Organics association IFOAM said that the F2F should also include quantitative targets to increase both organic land and consumption of organic products in Europe, as well as reduce the use (in quantities) of pesticides and antibiotics.

COPA-COGECA said they “strongly support” an organic sector development that is driven by consumer demand in order to maintain the economic viability of organic farmers by not reducing farm-gate prices. They add this is “essential” to protect the existing farming investment in the sector.

However, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), representing producers of plant production products (PPPs), stressed it is important to note that there “ecological trade-offs” with an increase of organic agriculture should be considered.

According to them, some products commonly used in organic agriculture need to be applied in much larger quantities than low rate chemical alternatives and more agricultural land may be required to maintain the same level of productivity.

They therefore call for the creation of a specific indicator linked to the use of pesticides in organic agriculture.

EU's new agriculture Commissioner vows to promote organic farming

The EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, highlighted the promotion of organic farming as a key aim for the new European Commission in his inaugural speech yesterday (10 December).

Reduction targets

Greenpeace Belgium has called for setting “binding targets to reduce the quantity of synthetic pesticides by 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030,” saying the objective should be a full phase-out by 2035.

However, COPA-COGECA voiced its concern over reduction targets, saying there will be significant economic, social or environmental impacts and that it is “imperative that the Commission carry out impact assessments before taking any political or regulatory decision on establishing targets such as to reduce the use of pesticides, as well as the use of fertilisers and antibiotics.”

Crop protection lobby ECPA said they recognise societal concerns associated with pesticides and acknowledged the Commission’s willingness to reduce both risk and use, although this will be difficult to implement.

Commission wants ‘realistic targets’ for pesticide, fertilisers cuts- Kyriakides

Speaking before the parliamentary committee on the Environment (ENVI), Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides confirmed that the new EU food policy, the Farm 2 Fork Strategy (F2F), will feature legislative actions too and that there will be specific targets for the reduction of both risk and use of pesticides.

Alternatives to pesticides

Amongst stakeholders, there was a clear emphasis on the need for alternatives to pesticides.

COPA-COGECA said it should be clarified how Europe is going to significantly reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers when there is “no mention of a list of credible and realistic alternatives in the Green Deal Communication.”

ECPA shared similar concerns, adding that farmers will require more innovative tools in a changing climate, which will bring new threats from mycotoxins and invasive alien species, as predicted by the European Food Safety Agency EFSA.

They also encouraged the creation of an indicator that measures the “consequences that farmers will face” if no alternative solutions are brought on time to the market.

The International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA) stressed the need for a new “bioprotection specific regulation” which covers microbials and other bioprotectants with a fast-tracking approach.

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Biological pesticides are rapidly gaining attention as a sustainable and viable environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides. However, they are currently hampered by maladapted regulation.

Antimicrobial resistance

COPA-COGECA said that increasing antimicrobial resistance is “one of the most sensitive topics in relation to human and animal health as well as the environment” and constituted a serious concern worldwide.

However, Animal Health Europe which represents the European animal medicines industry “strongly opposed the imposition of absolute reduction targets” on antibiotics, saying this would place animals in need of antibiotic treatment at risk.

Instead, they said, the success of the new regulation on veterinary medicines, which provides measures to reduce the need for antibiotic use to a minimum, should be evaluated prior to any further legislative measure being added beyond the outstanding implementing measures.

AMR: Foodborne superbugs harder to beat, EU agencies say

Foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. Coli are getting harder to treat as they are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics used to beat them, two EU agencies warned in a report published on Tuesday (3 March).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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