"It's time to listen to the data on the Farm-to-Fork strategy," say EU farm groups

Farming groups across the European Union have signed a joint declaration saying that the European Commission must acknowledge the significant trade-offs in the Farm-to-Fork strategy.
calendar icon 14 October 2021
clock icon 5 minute read

Food chain actors all agree with the main principles set out in the Farm-to-Fork strategy and are fully aware that constant and substantial improvement must be made to ensure a more sustainable approach to our food systems. Nevertheless, several recently published studies on the Farm to Fork strategy indicate that the current targets, if implemented as proposed, will come at a considerable cost for EU farmers and the viability of the entire European agribusiness sector.

The time for political messages about the Farm to Fork strategy has passed. It is now time to analyse the data that is currently available. In recent months, several key reports and studies have tried to assess and measure the impacts of the targets set by the European Commission when they presented the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in May 2020.

Studies conducted by the USDA, HFFA Research, the Joint Research Centre of the EU (JRC), Kiel University as well as Wageningen University and Research (WUR) all conclude that there are several significant impacts, trade-offs and blind spots that urgently need to be considered by policy-makers in the EU (and beyond).

For example:

  • The JRC study predicts that the expected decrease of between 40% and 60% of GHG emissions from European agriculture resulting from the implementation of Farm-to-Fork targets will lead to European agricultural production, including its emissions, being outsourced to third countries.
  • The Kiel University study projects that Europe could become a net food importer, which is in direct contradiction with the open strategic autonomy promoted by the European Commission during the COVID crisis.
  • The USDA study concludes that the targets set in the Farm-to-Fork strategy could lead to 22 million people being subject to food insecurity.

Why is Europe not looking at the data?

These studies, which each use different methodologies and have different focal points and limitations, all complement each other. They all reach the same conclusions. EU agricultural production will decrease and quite drastically in some areas and for some products. For the cumulative impact of the targets, the latest WUR study shows an average production decline of between 10-20% with a drop of up to 30% for certain crops.

As regards livestock production, the study from the University of Kiel points to a 20% reduction in EU beef production and a 17% reduction for pork production on average. A further WUR policy paper (soon to be published) confirms an overall decrease in beef, pig and dairy production, leading not only to a price increase for EU consumers but also showing questionable effects on livestock farmers' incomes.

The data clearly points to impacts on trade, on farmers’ incomes and ultimately on consumer prices. Changing the food system under these conditions will be more difficult, and imposing consumption taxes, as proposed by the European Parliament, could make it socially unjust.

All the actors in the agri-food chain are aware of the environmental and climate challenges that we are facing today. We are all committed to playing our part in the fight to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. European agricultural production is among the most resource and environmentally friendly production in the world. Nevertheless, European producers believe that with innovation and relevant support at the core of EU agricultural policy, farmers will continue to produce in an even more sustainable manner. We acknowledge society’s and policy-makers’ expectations in the realm of food production. However, a non-data based, political target will have deleterious effects on European agriculture. We must build solution-oriented policies based on the data we have to hand, with innovation being their cornerstone.

In order to start talking about solutions, we need to have a common understanding of the challenges that we face in pursuit of our Farm-to-Fork objectives. This common understanding should be based on a comprehensive and cumulative impact assessment conducted by the European Commission. The most recent Wageningen study, with its different scenarios, clearly shows that assessing the effects of Farm-to-Fork targets in isolation, as the Commission seems to envision doing from now on, will only give a partial picture of the cumulative reality faced by farmers and agri-food players on the ground.

We are just as eager as the Commission to end this debate on the necessity to carry out a cumulative impact assessment. We call for a comprehensive assessment because we want to understand where problems are likely to arise so that we can discuss the potential solutions.

Europe’s food production model, spearheaded by the Common Agricultural Policy, has been one of the greatest successes of the European Union. We do not understand the apparent attempt to hinder our progress and disregard our successes at a time when our trading partners are already talking about filling the production gaps left vacant by Europe.

In addition, if EU production decreases, as all researchers who have assessed the impact of the Commission’s current proposals clearly expect, then EU imports of agricultural raw materials and ingredients are bound to increase significantly, thus making the EU dependent on imports to feed its population. This would in turn pose several political and food safety risks for European consumers.

It is high time that the European Commission conduct a holistic impact assessment. The Farm to Fork deadline is looming. Eight years for the agricultural sector is not that long. We urgently need to see concrete proposals and a more in-depth discussion about the choices we are making. That said, this must be based on better data.

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