By choosing to impose green objectives without undertaking a comprehensive impact assessment, the European Commission is leaving the EU farming sector vulnerable and waiting like “animals to be slaughtered”, according to the head of the EU farmers association.
“Without showing us what the consequences of these new initiatives would be on the agricultural sector, we just wait like animals to be slaughtered,” Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the EU farmers and cooperatives association, COPA-COGECA, said during a recent EURACTIV event.
While the Commission has previously suggested that each measure in the strategy will be separately evaluated, no overall impact assessment of the EU’s pivotal food policy, the Farm to Fork, is in the pipeline. This is justified on the basis that the initiative is voluntary, Pesonen said.
However, as Carla Boonstra, head of unit for the department of agriculture at the Dutch Permanent Representation to the EU, pointed out, just because targets are voluntary does not mean that the sector is not obliged to meet the targets.
“Certainly, we all have to meet the targets,” she said, highlighting that it is important to afford primary producers the room to meet the objectives the way that best suits them.
Commission ‘falling short’
Pesonen said he found it “very strange to understand this logic from the Commission’s perspective”, pointing out that there are ongoing talks about how the Green Deal objectives can be incorporated into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package.
He highlighted that while the farming sector “doesn’t necessarily disagree with the targets,” the Commission is “falling short” in providing a comprehensive overview of the plan’s short- and long-term impacts on the agricultural sector.
“We need to get the global comprehensive impact assessment in place so that we actually know what we are talking about and not having these shadowboxing,” he stressed.
Bérénice Dupeux, senior policy officer for agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), highlighted that any such impact assessment must be holistic, looking at the impact on farmers as well as on the planet and consumers.
“Any impact assessments to be carried out in the future need to take into account natural capital, which is largely not done at the moment,” she said, stressing that continuing business as usual undermines the health of the ecosystem farmers rely on.
“So it’s not only for the environment that we should reach this objective, but it is also for the farmers’ sake to continue to have profitable agriculture in the future,” she said.
Impact assessment remains ‘open question’
Tassos Haniotis, director of strategy, simplification and policy analysis at the European Commission’s DG AGRI, reiterated that every legal proposal put forth by the Commission will be accompanied by an impact assessment, but said that the possibility of an impact assessment covering all elements at the same time is an “open question”.
“We have done an impact assessment when we made our legal proposal and I hope, sooner or later, there are going to be impact assessments that would affect either the environmental side or also the side of the consumer behaviour,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that the series of proposals made by the Commission in strategic forums would have a “short-term negative impact on production”.
“So one could say that there is going to be a cumulative impact upon them,” he conceded, adding a caveat that all impact assessments and analyses always have a margin of error.
He reserved particular criticism for the fact that a recent impact assessment of the EU’s strategy by the US department of agriculture (USDA) did not take into account technological innovation and adjustment of best practices.
It is also important, Haniotis added, to avoid the mistake of considering that there is only one way of doing best practice.
“It’s not only organic, or precision farming or agroecology, all best practices have something specific to offer, provided that they’re based on what is best for the conditions of the area,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]