The EU’s Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, has teased stakeholders with the promise of a ‘comprehensive impact assessment’ of the Commission’s pivotal food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), but remained vague as to what this means in practice.
The set of measures included in the F2F, as well as targets – for some welcome, for others controversial – represents the vision for European agriculture in the decades to come.
Despite mounting calls for a comprehensive impact assessment of the EU’s green ambitions, as well as a number of other studies emerging from third parties, the Commission has so far committed only to separate evaluations of each measure in the strategy.
“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,” the deputy director-general at the Commission’s DG SANTE, Claire Bury, said at a EURACTIV event last year.
However, on Thursday (23 September), Commissioner Wojciechowsk appeared to announce plans for a comprehensive impact assessment via a Twitter post.
“A comprehensive impact assessment will follow before legislation process starts and when we know all National Strategic Plans for the future CAP [Common Agricultural Policy],” his tweet said.
A comprehensive impact assessment will follow before legislation process starts and when we know all National Strategic Plans for the future CAP. Hence, analysis will continue, including changing food consumption patterns and taking the Plans into account.
— Janusz Wojciechowski (@jwojc) September 23, 2021
The national plans, whose drafts are due for submission to the Commission for approval by the end of the year, are the key instrument through which EU countries will set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives.
“Specific impact assessments are foreseen for all Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies legislative initiatives with significant impacts,” the Commissioner added in an additional tweet.
The change of heart appears to be triggered by the recent publication of a report from the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) which explores the potential impact of the reform of the CAP on the sector.
However, the report took pains to stress that it was simply a “technical report” and not an official impact assessment.
Pushed by EURACTIV’s agrifood reporters during a press conference on Thursday (23 September) on whether the Commission will commit to a comprehensive impact assessment, the Commissioner tiptoed around the subject.
“The problem is that we are not able now to have the full impact assessment about the consequences of the Farm to Fork [and] Biodiversity strategies,” he said, stressing again that it will only be possible after the adoption of the strategic plans.
He added a reminder that the targets are “political” and, as such, there is “no obligation for the farmers to introduce the instrument of the Farm to Fork strategy, the targets on the farm level or on the national level”.
However, later on during the conference, he did appear to offer some commitment.
“Yes, of course, we will,” he said when questioned again as to whether the Commission will carry out an overall impact assessment.
The Commissioner also made similar remarks 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 news will be welcomed by the European farmers’ lobby, which has been particularly vocal in criticising the lack of an initial impact study.
Most recently, EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA criticised the fact that “more than a year after the Commission launched its F2F, an official study is still missing, pushing various universities and stakeholders to assess its potential impact”.
It referred to a new study on the possible consequences of the implementation of the F2F, published by the University of Kiel.
Acknowledging this criticism, Commissioner Wojciechowski said he is aware of the concerns and the Commission is doing “everything to avoid negative impact for [the] productivity of European agriculture and for food security”.
Others, however, remain critical about the need for such an assessment.
“How much more scaremongering by COPA-COGECA?” tweeted Camille Perrin, senior food policy officer for consumers organisation BEUC, following the publication of the Kiel study.
The F2F, she added, does set out a “clear path towards sustainable food systems”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]