Farmers association and NGOs at odds over postponement of new EU food policy

The Farm to Fork strategy aims to make the entire food chain from production to consumption more sustainable and neutral in its impact on the environment. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Farmers association COPA-COGECA has backed the further postponement and debut of the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, due to mounting pressures faced by farmers over the COVID-19 outbreak, but this stance has been heavily criticised.

In a letter addressed to Norbert Lins, chair of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI), secretary-general of COPA-COGECA Pekka Pesonen states that “farmers, forest owners and their cooperatives are facing an increasingly difficult situation”.

According to the farmers’ lobby, the spread of COVID-19 is now “having rapid and negative knock-on effects on the main agricultural and forestry sectors, both in the immediate and the medium to long term”.

It adds that this mounting crisis potentially “puts both the single market and international markets at stake, threatening supply chains, jobs and ultimately EU food security”.

As such, the letter calls on co-legislators to “postpone any decisions that are made without proper and adequate reflection” in addition to introducing any measures to safeguard and guarantee the functioning of agricultural activity.

This would be a further postponement of the strategy after the decision was already taken to push it back until the end of April. 

The F2F will be embedded in the EU’s flagship environmental policy, the Green Deal, and aims to make the entire food chain from production to consumption more sustainable and neutral in its impact on the environment.

Coronavirus puts on hold unveiling of new EU food policy

The launch of the new EU food policy, the Farm 2 Fork strategy (F2F), will be delayed at least by another month in light of a rescheduling of the Commission’s work programme due to coronavirus outbreak.

Pesonen told EURACTIV that the current crisis has meant major disruption for farmers and that the implementation of restrictive measures would be a further blow to them. 

“If the proposal were to continue, this would show sheer ignorance and disregard for the reality of the situation that agriculture and other primary sectors are facing at the moment,” he said. 

He added that while COPA-COGECA has been supportive of the Green Deal and the F2F, the strategy will add “further constraints” in already high-pressured circumstances, without offering adequate alternatives to farmers. 

Moreover, as this initiative will have “significant economic, social and environmental impacts,” the letter also calls for the Commission to carry out an “inception impact assessment” for both the F2F and entire Green Deal before taking any political or regulatory decision. 

It specifies that this is “even more relevant when it comes to the setting of targets such as those to reduce the use of pesticides, fertilisers or antibiotics”.

Similarly, the European People’s Party (EPP) group has also called for another postponement of the planned strategy until at least after the summer, citing the “crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic”.

EPP calls for further postponement of Farm to Fork strategy

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.

Following the initial decision to postpone the strategy, AGRI chair Norbert Lins tweeted his support, stating that actors involved deserve to be heard, “especially in times like these, where the security of food supply is very important”.

However, Henriette Christensen, senior policy advisor at Pesticide Action Network Europe, told EURACTIV that there has “never been a more appropriate moment for the EU to publish 2030 strategies of relevance to food and biodiversity”.

“These strategies create a vision for 2030 and therefore create stability, giving some certainty in a period with a lot of uncertainty for all,” she added.

“I find it rather strange that COPA is calling on MEPs to take a quick decision on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform proposal but asking for a delay in the publication of the F2F and the biodiversity strategies,” she added, saying that the “preparation of an impact assessment risks to take at least a year”.

“The way forward for the EU must be first to publish the 2030 strategies, and as part of that identify significant targets for reducing pesticide use (and antibiotics and fertilisers) allowing the ecological transition to kick off, and then to decide how to spend the 60 billion euro that the EU is using on the CAP to match this objective. The other way around makes no sense.”

EU farm chief: Post-coronavirus recovery should be green and sustainable

The Green Deal remains a flagship policy of von der Leyen Commission and the EU should aim for a post-COVID-19 recovery that is green and sustainable, Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told EURACTIV.com in an exclusive interview.

Greenpeace EU agriculture campaigner Sini Eräjää concurred, saying that the “big lesson of this pandemic is: listen to the scientists, and act”.

“Farmers need help to deal with this crisis, but science is telling us that the nature and biodiversity crisis will put our food systems in even more danger in years to come. If we don’t start helping farmers transition to ecological farming now, we will be looking at food shortages when climate breakdown starts to bite.”

Likewise, Nikolai Pushkarev, policy coordinator at the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), said that it is “unfortunate that this health crisis is being used as a pretext to postpone the Farm to Fork Strategy, an important initiative dealing with the sustainability of the food system which is at the heart of Europeans’ concerns today.”

“Even more regrettable is the use of language implying that the Strategy is essentially there to burden farmers, rather than ensuring the future viability of the food system,” he added.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna / Sam Morgan]

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