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We are how we eat: the Farm to Fork Strategy

Photo by Toa Heftiba Şinca, Pexels


Valerio Pellegrini, 89 Belgium

The information and views presented in this article are those of the authors only, and do not reflect the positions and opinions of their former or current employers, or of any organisation they were or are affiliated with.


Executive summary

Global challenges make it more and more clear that sustainability is pivotal in order to change the future of the planet and of humankind and to face the possible environmental, and not only environmental, emergencies that we could face in the near future. The following text analyses one of the fields in which the EU acts in order to foster sustainability: the food chain. This pillar of our production and our economies is addressed by several actions adopted by the EU, among which are of major importance the Common Agricultural Policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Contingency Plan for food supply and food security. We are what we eat and more and more we are how we eat. These three means put into force by the EU aim at helping the food chain to develop a more sustainable way of production and consumption approaching the issue from different angles: the economic one with regards to allocation of funds, the production one and the preparedness in front of emergencies.


Feuerbach in a globalized world

Feuerbach said we are what we eat and his conclusions were visionary, but in today’s world, we have a new awareness, as a consequence of being what we eat, we are also how we eat. The food on our tables always brought within a symbolic meaning, a spiritual and cultural one. Eating has always been a way to share our fragility: look, I am weak as you, I have a limit, I have to eat to survive. That is why eating is always connected with the kind of relationship I have with the “other”. Nowadays eating is enriched by a meaning not only connected to the neighbour stricto sensu and a community close in space and time, today the neighbour is the whole planet and the community is the whole human family. Globalization challenges (i.e. climate change, mass migrations, technological development, and the pandemic) make it more and more clear how our interconnectedness to one another and to the planet is very intimate and unavoidable: none survives unless we all survive. How we eat is then a communitarian phenomenon at a global level, and yes, we are then what we eat. To eat today is more and more a global political and cultural act, it is a choice that implies a necessity for the food industry, for the distribution one and for the consumers for it to be sustainable and ecological. 

In this view the EU promoted and implemented the so-called “Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system” project. The strategy is part of the European Green Deal roadmap presented on the 11th of December of 2019 and fosters a sustainable food system model at all stages of the food chain. Many citizens and stakeholders contributed to the Commission’s consultation in February/March 2020. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the initial launch of the project which unfolds through 27 legislative and non-legislative measures from 2020 to 2024, was delayed. On 20 May 2020, the Commission adopted its communication and in 2023 a review is foreseen. On the 12th of November 2021, also due to the pandemic crisis, a contingency plan for ensuring food supply and food security in times of crisis was adopted. 

In order to have an overview as complete as possible both the general “Farm to Fork” plan and the “contingency plan” will be examined in detail.


The Common Agricultural Policy

“Already in 2010, the Parliament noted that agriculture, as one of the main sources of two major greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide and methane) which are generated by various biological processes linked to agricultural production, is contributing to climate change while also being very vulnerable to its adverse impact. In the Green Deal Resolution, Parliament called for a sustainable Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to deliver more environmental and climate benefits and to manage volatility and crises in a better way.”[1] 

As the F2F and the Common Agricultural Policy are intimately connected, it is important to have a glance at the new CAP main points. “The new CAP supports agriculture in making a much stronger contribution to the goals of the European Green Deal:

  • higher green ambitions: CAP plans will be in line with environmental and climate legislation. In its CAP strategic plan, each EU country will be obliged to display a higher ambition on environment and climate action compared to the previous programming period (no “backsliding”) and will be required to update the plan when climate and environmental legislation is modified;
  • contribute to the Green Deal targets: the national CAP strategic plans will contribute to the Green Deal targets (the CAP recommendations set out how this contribution is expected);
  • enhanced conditionality: beneficiaries of the CAP will have their payments linked to a stronger set of mandatory requirements. For example, on every farm at least 3% of arable land will be dedicated to biodiversity and non-productive elements, with a possibility to receive support via eco-schemes to achieve 7%. Wetlands and peatlands will also be protected.
  • eco-schemes: at least 25% of the budget for direct payments will be allocated to eco-schemes, providing stronger incentives for climate-and environment-friendly farming practices and approaches (such as organic farming, agro-ecology, carbon farming, etc.) as well as animal welfare improvements;
  • rural development: at least 35% of funds will be allocated to measures to support climate, biodiversity, environment and animal welfare;
  • operational programmes: in the fruit and vegetables sector, operational programmes will allocate at least 15% of their expenditure towards the environment (compared to 10% during the current programming period);
  • climate and biodiversity: 40% of the CAP budget will have to be climate-relevant and strongly support the general commitment to dedicate 10% of the EU budget to biodiversity objectives by the end of the EU’s multiannual financial framework (MFF) period.” [2]

Farm to Fork: the action plan

In this context, we can better understand the main points of the F2F strategy. The project includes the objectives of the CAP. “In the Council, Ministers adopted conclusions assessing the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy on 19 October 2020. The conclusions involve political messages aiming to ensure sufficient and affordable food while contributing to EU climate neutrality by 2050, and a fair income and strong support for primary producers. While broadly welcoming announced initiatives, the Council requests the Commission to base legislative proposals on scientifically-sound ex-ante impact assessments describing the methods of calculation of the targets and the baselines and reference periods of each individual target, after consultation with the Member States.

The Parliament adopted a resolution welcoming the Commission’s proposal to present a ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy on 15 January 2020. It welcomed the Commission’s commitment to tackle the pressure from pesticides on the environment and health, and to reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilisers and antibiotics, and stressed the need to refer to the latest scientific findings in developing any new standards. A Parliament’s own-initiative report on the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy was adopted by Parliament plenary on 19 October 2021 (votes: 452 votes in favour, 170 against, and 76 abstentions). One amendment tabled for the plenary on the need of impact assessment following the publication of studies on the effects of the strategy on agricultural production was approved too (votes: 464 in favour, 220 against, and 14 abstentions). The report largely supports the vision and goals of the strategy towards more sustainable food production and consumption.” [3]

The action plan delivers on several fronts:

  • rewarded removal of CO2 emissions;
  • advancement of energy efficiency solutions;
  • 50 % reduction in the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides and in the use of more hazardous pesticides by 2030;
  • at least 20 % reduced use of fertilisers by 2030;
  • measures for a more sustainable animal sector, animal welfare and plant health;
  • 50 % reduction of EU sales of antimicrobials in farming and aquaculture by 2030;
  • 25 % of organically farmed area and a significant increase in organic aquaculture by 2030;
  • recommendations to each Member State on the 9 objectives of the common agricultural policy (CAP) to be included in their strategic plans;
  • measures for increasing sustainability of fish and seafood production;
  • clarifying competition rules and monitoring the implementation of the unfair trading practices (UTPs) directive.

With regards to the rewarded removal of CO2 emissions “farming practices that remove CO2 from the atmosphere contribute to the climate neutrality objective and should be rewarded, either via the common agricultural policy (CAP) or other public or private initiatives (carbon market)”.[4] A new EU carbon farming initiative under the Climate Pact will foster the new model, which will allow farmers to have a new income in order to engage other sectors to decarbonize the chain. “The Commission will develop a regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals based on robust and transparent carbon accounting to monitor and verify the authenticity of carbon removals.”[5] On the side of finding energy efficiency solutions, market adoption of such solutions will be fostered both in the food and in agriculture sectors. The investment will have to be enforced in a sustainable way with a special attention to not compromising food security and biodiversity. In order to reduce by 50% the use of pesticide, the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive will be revised. The integrated pest management (IPM) policies will be updated and several ways to promote “alternative ways of protecting harvests from pests and diseases” [6] will be adopted. “IPM will encourage the use of alternative control techniques, such as crop rotation and mechanical weeding, and will be one of the main tools in reducing the use of, and dependency on, chemical pesticides in general, and the use of more hazardous pesticides in particular”. [7] To reduce the use of fertilizer by 2030 the relevant environmental and climate legislation in full will be implemented and enforced. Together with Member States the nutrient load reductions needed to achieve this goal will be analysed. “The Commission will develop with Member States an integrated nutrient management action plan to address nutrient pollution at source and increase the sustainability of the livestock sector.” [8] As for sustainability in the animal sector, animal welfare and plant health Europe aims at becoming the global standard. The plan foresees rewards for “farmers, fishers and other operators in the food chain who have already undergone the transition to sustainable practices, enable the transition for the others, and create additional opportunities for their businesses. EU agriculture is the only major system in the world that reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (by 20% since 19904 )”[9]. 

Reducing the sales of antimicrobials is a key point in order to reduce the death rate due to these products in EU/EEA. It is estimated that the yearly deaths connected to the use of antimicrobials is set around 33.000 in the EU/EEA. This puts it clear how this issue is central in the F2F strategy.  The F2F action plan contemplates also an improvement of organic farming in order to rise this kind of farming to the 20% on the total. […] Among the measures related to a sustainable fish and seafood production it foresees “the mandatory use of digitalised catch certificates which will strengthen measures to prevent illegal fish products from entering the EU market” [10]. It is well known that all these practices foster biodiversity, they have a positive impact on occupation and attract younger generations, who see in it a sustainable possibility for their future to work as farmers. The unfair trade practices act as a hinge between the various aspects we analyzed “to support primary producers in the transition, the Commission envisages clarifying the competition rules for collective initiatives that promote sustainability in supply chains. It will also help farmers and fishers to strengthen their position in the supply chain and to capture a fair share of the added value of sustainable production by encouraging the possibilities for cooperation within the common market organisations for agricultural products and fishery and aquaculture products”.[11]


The EU contingency plan for food supply and food security

The big challenges humanity is facing in the field of the food industry (climate change, degradation of food production, pandemic risks, cyber threats) require for the EU to be ready to react to possible emergencies rising in the near future. The contingency plan tries to put in practice a cooperative way between the public and private sector as they are both involved in the supply chain. The EFSCM will bring forward the plan. “The EFSCM will rely on a group of experts, combining Member States and some non-EU countries representatives and actors from all stages of the food chain, and a set of rules of procedures governing its functioning. The group will meet periodically, and in the event of a crisis, at very short notice and as frequently as necessary. It will focus on specific activities and a set of actions to be completed between mid-2022 and 2024: foresight, risk assessment and monitoring: improve preparedness by making use of available data (including on weather, climate, markets); further analysis of vulnerabilities and critical infrastructure of the food supply chain; coordination, cooperation and communication: sharing information, best practices, national contingency plans; development of recommendations to address crises; coordination and cooperation with the international community.”[12]


Conclusions

Both the Farm to Fork strategy and the Contingency Plan are pivotal to a more sustainable EU also on the side of the food industry. Thanks to these two means it is clear that sustainability has to do no not only with expanding a model, but also to protect what we already have. It is in this view that the Contingency Plan gives to the Farm to Fork strategy an armor in order to pursue its aims. One could not exist without the other as we are living in an era of global emergencies. The measures adopted in the EU are an example for the rest of the world and they could generate a virtuous circle at global level. It is in fact more and more clear that the EU must take awareness about being a pathfinder and a leader at the global level, and that it needs to  think in terms of global policies, to give global solutions to global problems. To make it short, the EU will have to take the responsibility to be a global actor and lead the rest of the world with its know-how, its experience and its vision. These two strategies adopted by the EU are a good example of how we, Europeans, can find global solutions to global problems. The next step will be to start being trustful and spread our models and best practices worldwide, to go out of our nest and fly. It is up to us to be leaders or to passively assist the degeneration of the world. In fact, it is becoming obvious that adopting such measures as the Farm to Fork or the Contingency Plan just in some parts of the world does not solve the problem of CO2 emissions. To solve it, the Farm to Fork and the Contingency Plan should be global strategies. In this regard, the Contingency Plan is a trailblazer as it takes into consideration the cooperation and the coordination with the international community. Taking action is more urgent than ever, and it is a big opportunity for the EU to become a game changer and a leading political, economic and cultural actor on a global scale.


Sources

[1] European Parliament, Farm to Fork strategy An overview of Parliament’s positions, available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/658206/IPOL_BRI(2020)658206_EN.pdf

[2] European Commission, The new common agricultural policy: 2023-27, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/food-farming-fisheries/key-policies/common-agricultural-policy/new-cap-2023-27_en

[3] European Parliament, Legislative Train Schedule, available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-european-green-deal/file-farm-to-fork-strategy

[4] European Commission, Farm to Fork Strategy, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/food/system/files/2020-05/f2f_action-plan_2020_strategy-info_en.pdf

[5] Ibidem.

[6] Ibidem

[7] Ibidem

[8] Ibidem

[9] Ibidem

[10] Ibidem

[11] Ibidem

[12] European Commission, Commission adopts contingency plan for food supply and food security in times of crisis, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_5903

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