The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been saying for months that the European Union’s Farm-to-Fork plan to overhaul farming and food production in the 27-country bloc would be disastrous for farmers and raise food prices for consumers.
But now, the chorus of concerns from European farmers is growing louder.
It’s been about a year since the European Union unveiled its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategy programs – two components of its overall Green Deal – and cracks are widening in farmer support for the scheme as they seek assurances that the strategy won't put them out of business.
“We … do not have a single doubt that the Farm to Fork strategy with its targets will have a considerable impact on the whole agricultural value chain, from farmers to our food systems and to consumers throughout the Union,” some of the largest farm and food organizations in Europe said in a recent public statement. “But most probably not the ones initially hoped for or expected.”
The EU is proposing to cut the use of pesticides on farms and antimicrobials in medicated feed by 50% while also reducing fertilizer usage by 20% by 2030.
European grain farmers, chicken producers, cattle ranchers, and fertilizer and feed manufacturers are all desperate for evidence that that the EU government is going to help protect them as it implements Farm to Fork, but producers are growing increasingly frustrated.
At the very least, groups like the farm and co-op organization COPA-COGECA, argue, the European Commission needs to follow through on promises to produce an impact statement similar to what the USDA’s Economic Research Service produced in the form of a study in November 2020.
“In the face of the challenges posed to our food security, this neglect on the part of the commission is both incomprehensible and unacceptable,” the group and many others said in a recent open letter – one of several, expressing a growing frustration with the EC, the EU's governing arm. “Why has the U.S. government already conducted a study on our own flagship policy?”
The American Farm Bureau Federation keeps in touch with COPA-COGECA, and the European group has very real and logical concerns, says David Salmonsen, a senior director for congressional relations for AFBF.
“I think they’d like to know how this is going to work for normal production agriculture in Europe,” Salmonsen told Agri-Pulse. “It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request.”
And the ERS impact study – the kind of study European farmers want done on their side of the Atlantic – is troubling.
European agricultural production would decline by as much as 4% and food prices would rise by as much as 60% as a result of Farm to Fork and the Biodiversity Strategy, according to the ERS economists, who evaluated multiple scenarios.
The European Commission was due to release an impact assessment in September, but it was never issued, COPA-COGECA Secretary General Pekka Pesonen told Agri-Pulse.
Perhaps even more worrisome is the impact the programs would have on some of the poorest nations if they followed suit and adopted the European overhauls, the analysis concludes. Global production could drop as much as 11%.
EU farm groups like Europe’s Association of Poultry Producers (AVEC) are just plain critical of some of the basic foundations of Farm to Fork.
The strategy, AVEC says, comes from an unrealistic urban perspective of farming and, at its core, is based on the “basic tenet that meat is not sustainable and is harmful to the environment and human health.”
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AVEC, like other groups, is straining to get the European Commission to heed its concerns.
“Livestock has been – and still is – blamed for many evils,” says AVEC Secretary General Birthe Steenberg. “We may not be perfect, but it is only fair to highlight the numerous measures already taken and the substantial progress made by all in our sector. … It is crucial to make our voice heard, because we want to be part of the current process which will determine the future, and because we wish to make ourselves available to share our knowledge and experience with policy-makers, during the ongoing discussions on (Farm to Fork).”
The accusation that policy-makers do not understand what they are regulating is becoming more common, and groups like the European Compound Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) and COCERAL, the European association of trade in cereals, oilseeds, pulses, olive oil, oils and fats and animal feed, say their members are being pushed too far under Farm to Fork, a part of the EU’s larger Green Deal.
Farmers have already reduced pesticide use drastically over the past 50 years, but Farm to Fork would require another 50% reduction over the next 10 years, according to a an open letter published Friday by FEFAC, the European Fresh Produce Association and other members of the European Agri-Food Chain Roundtable on Plant Protection.
“In order to deliver on the ambitious Green Deal objectives, any proposed combination of policy measures needs to balance trade-offs without leaving anyone in the food supply chain behind – especially in the aftermath of COVID-19,” the groups said. “This means that the policy options under consideration need to be science-based and premised on solid data. This is too important an issue for there not to be a full assessment of the potential consequences.”
At a minimum, farm groups like COPA-COGECA, AVEC, the European Livestock Voice, Euroseeds, and others want to know that the government will support farmers and ranchers through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to help defer the costs of getting greener under Farm to Fork.
“Farm groups want the EU to support the transition to more sustainable production with market-based investments,” said Pesonen.
But COPA-COGECA announced on Friday that it was “extremely disappointed” after it failed to get an acceptable CAP deal from the European Parliament, Commission and Council.
“European negotiators must urgently get their act together and assume their responsibility to reach a compromise that safeguards both the economic and environmental performance of the farming sector,” COPA-COGECA said in a statement as it also fired off a letter to European President Ursula Von der Leyen. “This failure was foreseeable due to the weakness and poor understanding of the Agriculture Commissioner regarding the reality of farming in Europe.”
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