Can our forks become more sustainable? The Farm to Fork Strategy explained in order to understand the role of agriculture in the Green Deal.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have shown us that we rely on a fragile and vulnerable system that is currently facing many difficulties in overcoming such periods of instability.
In this respect, it might be interesting to learn about the EU legislation proposed in response to such an urgent situation. This concerns not only the preservation of our natural environment, but also that of food security and of human health.
What is the Farm to Fork Strategy?
Nowadays, the European food system accounts for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, consuming natural resources and resulting in biodiversity loss and additional negative effects on human health. The European Commission has highlighted the need to redesign our food system, proposing a strategy aimed at achieving a sustainable transition in the long term. This is known as the Farm to Fork Strategy, which is part of the Green Deal’s section on agriculture. The Farm to Fork Strategy now stands as a major starting point in creating a coherent approach with reference to the fundamental role that the European agricultural system has to play in averting environmental catastrophes.
The Strategy was presented in May 2020 by the European Commission and after many amendments, it was approved by the European Parliament in October 2021.
How does it work?
This strategy represents a new approach of integration within the Green Deal proposals, as it links environmental and agricultural issues to the goal of constraining the negative effects of climate change, providing sustainable food supply chains. As a matter of fact, it is precisely its complexity that constitutes its strength. It contains a series of proposals on how to make our food system more sustainable and it sets out different targets so as to achieve this goal. Some of these targets include the following:
- reduction of the use of pesticides and fertilisers,
- increasing organic farming activities
- improving animal welfare
- the reversing of biodiversity loss, and thus the mitigation of the negative effects of climate change.
This strategy ultimately supports the thesis according to which the damaged agricultural sector can evolve and be developed to become an integral part of the solution.
What is the issue?
The food supply industry in the agricultural sector now finds itself in a very difficult position and there are many intricacies to consider. A particular sore point is its monetary cost. In fact, developing a new sustainable agricultural system requires large investments, which also results in more expensive products. On the one hand, the industry is required to implement new technologies and techniques that are more expensive and less productive in order to reduce its ecological impact. On the other hand, it has to adapt to a growing demand curve. This cycle represents an obstacle that risks widening the divide between higher and lower social classes, both amongst consumers and producers.
About producers and consumers:
Guiding our food system towards a more sustainable production would present new opportunities for those operating within the food value chain, though some important distinctions must be made. The most prolific producers would actually become the only ones able to sustain the increase in costs and they could potentially leave the smaller ones out of the market. In any case, the Strategy proposal includes some economic incentives as well, which should act as stimulants for both small and big producers. This would incentivize them to meet all the ecological targets it sets, maintaining also a solid competition and high employment rates. So, not only food security is at risk, but work places and salaries would also be jeopardized.
However, consumers might suffer even stronger consequences. As a matter of fact, due to increases in prices and reduction in quantity, the gap between higher and lower social classes will ultimately wide, preventing more and more people from meeting the minimum healthy living standards in terms of consumption. It might be interesting to give weight to the famous claim «we are what we eat » announced by the well-known German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach. As consumers, we all have the power to make critical choices that will influence the market. Yet, it should not be forgotten that sustainable food usually equals higher prices, which are not always accessible to everyone. In addition, this would create an opposite tendency as more people within the middle class will feel poorer and will instead continue to buy cheaper products that do not meet the sustainable targets out in place.
About targets and goals:
The reduction of the ecological impact of agricultural production is an urgent matter, and the Farm to Fork Strategy addresses it through the introduction of new targets and goals:
- to reduce by 50% the overall use of chemical pesticides before 2030
- to use at least 25% of EU’s agricultural land for organic farming
- to reduce the use of fertilizers by at least 20%
- to reduce food waste within EU households thanks to new rules for expiry dates
- to promote education about sustainable food consumption and nutrition
These and other similar proposals are necessary to not only protect areas designated to agriculture, but also the entire ecosystem surrounding it. Yet they also pose a threat to the massive rate of production that is required due to a growing population.
Another target set out by the Strategy is that of animal welfare. Prioritizing the wellbeing of animals is necessary not only in the eyes of society, but also with respect to the sustainable transition of the food production system. Farming activities should aid in the ecological transition, supporting a resilient food production system that does not damage our planet. However, such targets entails very high costs and may not always represent a strong incentive for producers to align with the new standards. Again, this factor would create a larger divide between big and small producers, leading to similar consequences for consumers as well.
In conclusion, the Farm to Fork Strategy provides a complex and structured legislative framework for a sustainable transition path in the fields of food production and its related components. Yet, although it looks very promising, there are many issues to address, and time is shrinking. Not only is the European legislative system very slow, but we are also running out of time as irreversible changes are occurring to our planet due to the present climate crisis.
In such a period of crisis the action of every single individual is of vital importance. As a matter of fact, while waiting for this legislative framework to become effective, the EU citizens may have a fundamental role in trying to avoid food waste, for example. However, on the other hand, EU institutions must not stop pursuing such goals, and must try harder by implementing new strategies or agreements in order to make a more sustainable way of living a concrete possibility for everyone.
Official website of the European Union https://ec.europa.eu/food/horizontal-topics/farm-fork-strategy_it
APE Strasbourg - Association Parlementaire Européenne - Conference: « Farm to fork strategy: what is the role of agriculture in realizing the Green Deal? » https://fb.watch/8XzQ3LPuSH/
Clean Energy Wire, journalism for the energy transition https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/eus-farm-fork-strategy-impacts-climate-productivity-and-trade
AnimalhealthEurope, a non-profit association representing manufacturers of animal medicines, vaccines and other animal health products in Europe https://www.animalhealtheurope.eu/focus-area/106-farm-to-fork.html