The European People’s Party (EPP) group has called for another postponement of the planned Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) until at least after the summer, citing the “crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic”, but its position has been met with criticism from some stakeholders.
In a statement released on Friday (27 March), the group said the strategy would “impose new rules and restrictions on farmers across Europe, who are currently coping with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and have to ensure food production in Europe at the same time.”
“It is surely not the right moment to impose additional rules on farmers. We are facing the biggest crisis that the agricultural sector has seen in decades,” the statement said.
The F2F will be embedded in the EU’s flagship environmental policy, the Green Deal, and aim to make the entire food chain from production to consumption more sustainable and neutral in its impact on the environment.
Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, the EPP group spokesman for agriculture and rural development, said European farmers are confronted with new and unforeseen challenges and find themselves in situations of great difficulty.
“We have to give farmers security and must not create additional uncertainties. We should postpone the F2F until at least after the summer. Now it is essential to use our energy to find adequate measures to help our farmers and to re-establish good working and market conditions for them,” Dorfmann concluded.
The Farm to Fork strategy was initially due to be announced in March. However, this date was pushed back until April due to the current COVID-19 outbreak. The date is also to be confirmed and may be subject to change.
Contacted by EURACTIV last week, a Commission spokesperson said work on the Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies is ongoing and both will be presented in the coming weeks.
Following the decision to postpone the strategy, the chair of the agriculture committee (AGRI) at the European Parliament, another MEP for the EPP group, Norbert Lins, took to Twitter to offer his support, writing that actors involved deserve to be heard, “especially in times like these, where the security of food supply is very important.”
However, the idea of further delaying the launch of the strategy is not popular with other stakeholders.
Célia Nyssens, policy officer for agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), told EURACTIV that whilst it is true that farmers are facing new challenges – such as access to labour or issues in supply chains – to which we must respond, we also “need to start planning for the future to build more resilient and sustainable food supply chains – exactly what the Farm to Fork Strategy is about.”
She added that the F2F will not impose any “new rules and restrictions” on farmers on the day it is published, despite what the EPP seems to think.
“Strategies set out a clear direction of travel and plan actions to address problems – exactly what we need to do in these challenging times,” Nyssens concluded.
Madeleine Coste, policy officer at Slow Food Europe, told EURACTIV that one thing this current crisis has highlighted is the “great vulnerability of our food systems; its heavy reliance on cheap migrant labour, on extremely long supply chains, on an at-risk ageing farming population, and on the unhealthy consumption of cheap staple and processed foods.”
She said that to reduce the Farm to Fork strategy to “imposing stricter rules on farmers” is “missing an opportunity to get on track towards greater sustainability without further delay.”
Henriette Christensen, senior policy adviser at Pesticide Action Network Europe, concurred, adding that while the EPP argue for a delay in the F2F to avoid putting “new rules and restrictions on farmers who currently are fighting to ensure food production in Europe,” new data, released Friday (27 March), showed that 2019 was a “record year for EU agri-food trade.”
She emphasised that, given that the current outbreak may lead to the number of exports decreasing, this would make the “discussion about how to make European food get closer to European forks” even more important.
“EPP argues that farmers need stability, and again that is exactly what the F2F is expected to do by giving farmers a longer-term vision on the trend in food production, linking it more to consumers and citizens, towards 2030,” she added.
In an interview with EURACTIV, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the Green Deal, to which the F2F belongs, remains a flagship policy of the von der Leyen Commission.
“The climate crisis is not going away and the need for our society to become sustainable is indispensable to ensure its long-term resilience,” he said.
Wojciechowski warned that “it is too early to indicate precisely how Green Deal policy proposals will be affected” by the ongoing outbreak but insisted that society still needs to become resilient and sustainable to deal with a climate crisis that will simply not go away.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]