Lawmakers in the European Parliament’s agriculture and environmental committees have staked their preliminary position on the EU’s green farming ambitions, voting in favour of a draft report which includes a number of controversial amendments.
The report, passed on Friday (10 September), details their official reaction to the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), which the two committees share competence on.
While the draft report has no power to alter the strategy, it outlines the Parliament’s position on the matter.
According to a statement released by the Parliament, MEPs welcomed the strategy, presented by the Commission back in May 2020, which they believe is important to offer “fair, animal-friendly, healthy, high quality and affordable diets to European consumers”.
“There is a need for enhanced sustainability in all stages of the food chain and everyone from farmer to consumer has a role to play,” the statement reads.
The report was passed in full, including 48 compromise amendments, several of which have sparked strong reactions from the agricultural community.
This includes one stressing the need for a “binding nature” of reduction targets for pesticides, nutrient losses and fertilisers.
Other controversial amendments included one which calls for set maximum levels for sugar, fats and salt in certain processed foods, while another proposes a ‘sustainable food tax’.
This would offer member states flexible VAT rates depending on the healthiness or environmental footprint of the foodstuff, including the option of a zero VAT tax for healthy and sustainable food products, such as fruits and vegetables, while levying higher VAT rates for unhealthy food products or those with a high environmental footprint.
This would include meat, which was also targeted by a number of other amendments, including one calling for more stringent labelling of processed meats. This would see a number of animal welfare indicators, including place of birth and method of production, displayed on the label.
Meanwhile, the approved report called for stronger support for the production and market uptake of plant-based proteins.
Anja Hazekamp, a leftist MEP and the rapporteur for the environment committee, welcomed the news, saying that this report proposes “concrete measures to bring our food system back within planetary boundaries, ensuring the wellbeing of people, animals and the environment”.
However, while agriculture committee rapporteur Herbert Dorfmann said farmers can play a “significant role” in the fight against climate change, he warned that responsibility for a more sustainable agricultural must be a “joint effort where also consumers have a key role to play”.
“Farmers in Europe are already doing a great job so when we rightly ask them to further reduce their use of pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics, we need to support them to ensure economic viability so production is not just moved outside the EU,” he said, warning that ensuring availability of food at reasonable prices must continue to be a priority.
After campaigning for MEPs to back the report, civil society organisations and NGOs widely celebrated the news as a win.
Jabier Ruiz, senior agriculture policy officer at WWF’s European office, told EURACTIV that this vote in the Parliament sends a “strong positive signal” to the Commission that they have the Parliament’s backing to “be bold and make EU policies truly help in the transition to sustainable food systems”.
He added that he believed the strong support for the strategy indicates that it will likely receive a full endorsement by the Parliament plenary vote next month.
However, farmers’ associations voiced reservations about the outcome of the vote after a last-ditch attempt this week to convince lawmakers not to endorse the report.
EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA warned that “a limited but very impactful number of proposals cross the red line” in the final text which “call into question our food sovereignty, the future of our agriculture and our rural areas”.
As such, the association is already calling on all MEPs to reshape what they call the “most penalising elements”, including those outlined above, of the proposals resulting from the vote in the October plenary.
This is needed to ensure the “viability of the transition to a more sustainable food system,” they said.
Meanwhile, small farmers’ association European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) said it welcomed the report as a whole, it said it remains “sceptical about the potential for change,” especially given that it does not see “any intention to ensure European trade policy is subject to the Green Deal and the F2F Strategy”.
“Without this, the effective impact of the F2F Strategy on the sustainability of the food chain will be considerably reduced,” the association warned, adding it also had reservations regarding the strategy’s strong focus on digitalisation.
“We need greater economic coherence to ensure an inclusive and just transition of small and medium farmers, through fair prices from production to consumption,” they said.
The report on the F2F must now be debated and voted on by the full house during one of the plenary sessions in October, the date of which is yet to be determined.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]