US farm boss warns EU agrifood trade could be ‘perdue’ after Farm to Fork

While he commended the EU’s focus on sustainability, US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue criticised the new EU food policy, saying that it “seems to have forgotten the ‘farm’ in ‘Farm to Fork’”. [EPA-EFE]

US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has voiced concerns that the EU Green Deal could undermine trade and affect the “viability of EU farmers”, a claim that has been refuted by his EU counterpart.

Speaking during a webinar on the transatlantic perspective on food security in a post-COVID world on Wednesday (29 July), Perdue warned that the EU’s recently published Farm to Fork  (F2F) and Biodiversity strategies could be “extremely prohibitive and jeopardise agricultural output”. 

While he commended the EU’s focus on sustainability and expressed his desire to work closely with the bloc, he criticised the new flagship food policy, saying that it “seems to have forgotten the ‘farm’ in ‘Farm to Fork’”.

The F2F is designed to improve the sustainability of EU agriculture and shorten the distance between the farm and the consumer. Together with the Biodiversity plan, the two strategies lie at the heart of the EU Green Deal.

Commission warns against shift towards protectionism in agri-food sector

Struggling to cope with the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak, countries across the EU are increasingly considering protectionist measures, promoting national agri-food products and discouraging imported products.

Perdue also expressed concerns that EU farmers were being left without the necessary tools, warning that this makes farmers uncompetitive and could lead to a turn to protectionism, something he cautioned could “do real damage to the global trade environment”. 

“When innovative tools are taken away from a farmer, the only choice is protectionism, which isn’t healthy for Europe, the US, or anywhere else in the world. Walled-off protectionist strategies only take us back, not forward,” he said, adding that farmers need these tools in order to successfully compete in global strategy.

According to Perdue, there is no way to achieve food security for a growing population with rising needs if policies are imposed that “restrict growth and stifle innovation,” highlighting that the successes of US agriculture are due to an emphasis on innovative techniques. 

But EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski maintained that the emphasis on reinforcing shorter food supply chains does not imply any new trade barriers. 

“We are not against international trade, we need international trade and are interested to increase international trade,” he said during the same webinar.

But the Commissioner highlighted that a stronger emphasis on the local market for primary agricultural products is not mutually exclusive with also strengthening international trade.

“To reduce the need for imports is not protectionist,” the Polish official stressed, taking the example of improving EU production of protein crops, upon which the EU currently relies heavily on US imports. 

In response to the criticism over EU agrifood policy, Wojciechowksi highlighted that the EU agrifood system has “passed the test” by demonstrating resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting that the fact that food security was maintained during the crisis was a testament to EU agricultural policy.

Food security is no longer an issue in the EU, says Commissioner

Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius has cast doubt on the long-standing primacy of food security over environmental aspects in the current EU food system, suggesting that traditional concerns might give way to issues like climate change, sustainability, or biodiversity.

MEP Hermann Tertsch (ECR group) criticised Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius for indicating that food security was no longer an issue in the EU.

Instead, he highlighted that leaders in charge of design and implementation of food policy globally have a “huge responsibility to feed a growing world population”.

“For the time being, all our efforts now in agriculture should focus on how to secure food supply ad how to help farmers dealing with a deep crisis and risk of deep economic crisis and rural exodus,” he said, adding that there must be a better balance between food security and green ambitions. 

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