EU should shift to more sustainable food production: EU Commissioner

The use of chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics is to be limited and the agricultural production is to go in a greener direction. Such are the main changes that farmers should expect from the “Farm to Fork” EU strategy, as reported by Polish EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski on Thursday.

During a debate in Strasburg, Mr Wojciechowski said that “European farmers face a demanding challenge of sustainable food production that would benefit the environment, the climate and health. It’s an ambitious but costly task.”

“It’s an ambitious plan to implement a system of sustainable food production and European farmers have a pivotal role in the scheme,” Mr Wojciechowski added.

The ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy for sustainable food is a key component of the European Green Deal. Famous for its safety and high quality, “European... food should now also become the global standard for sustainability,” reads the European Commission website.

As the European Commission website reads, the Farm to Fork Strategy will also contribute to achieving a circular economy, aiming to reduce the environmental impact of the food processing and retail sectors by taking action on transport, storage, packaging and food waste.

Field of contention

But even before the strategy was incorporated into the European Green Deal, it had been making a stir among the EU members, especially amid growing US pressure to introduce chlorine-washed chicken on EU markets.

“We’re not going to go down on our food standards,” European Commission official Lukas Visek told Euroactive, adding: “We have the safest food in the world, we have a diversity of diets – there is no point in lowering our standards.”

For her part, French conservative MEP Anne Sander told Euroactive that the plant protection part of the upcoming ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy should take a realistic and science-based approach that allows farmers to “explore all possible solutions”, adding that “we cannot leave aside the new technologies, such as precision farming and smart farming, that are not sufficiently exploited today and that could be promising for our crops, both in economic terms and in terms of sustainability”.

But the economy of the “Farm to Fork” strategy is not an easy topic. As Mr Wojciechowski stressed, the scheme is “ambitious but costly.”

Moreover, the fact that the EU 2021-2027 budget cuts down expenses on agriculture, does not make the task easier.

Ruling Law and Justice (PiS) MEP Zbigniew Kuźmiuk, speaking in the name of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) said that “it so happens that the previous European Commission submitted a draft budget in May 2018 in which the funds for the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP] were reduced by 17 percent. In view of the new [Farm to Fork] challenges… it seems untenable.”

Mr Kuźmiuk noted that when the decrease in production was signalled in the Western European countries with the most industrialised agriculture, vocal protests of farmers occurred with tens of thousands of tractors taking to the streets.

Other MEPs also warned against farmers’ protests. “If farmers are not actively made part of our debate, this whole strategy will run into a wall,” said Italian Herbert Dorfmann of the European People's Party (EPP).

Mr Dorfmann also stressed that the issue lies with the fact that consumers tend to look for cheaper deals when shopping at a supermarke,t rather than focus on production standards.

Head of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Norbert Lins of the EPP stressed the need for incentives not interdictions, when regarding climate protection in the agriculture sector. Poland’s EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski reassured his fellow MEPs that farmers were aware of the necessity of a shift to a sustainable way of food production.

“If part of the production does not meet sustainability conditions today, if we are dealing with, for instance, concentration and intensification of animal breeding, then it is not because farmers wanted it this way but because economic conditions forced them to do so,” explained Mr Wojciechowski.

“Put simply, in order to make ends meet at their farms, farmers had to scale up their production,” continued Mr Wojciechowski, adding that “today we must help farmers change that, so that farming becomes farming again, and does not turn into an industry.”