European farm groups were already concerned that the EU’s Farm to Fork plan would slash production levels across the bloc of 27 countries, but now they fear the European Parliament will make the situation worse.

Parliament’s agriculture and environment committees voted overwhelmingly this month to add new requirements to Farm to Fork, the EU’s strategy to overhaul farming and food production as part of the Green Deal.

The two committees met on Sept. 9 and brought more than 3,000 amendments to the table, but lawmakers charged with organizing the hearing and vote whittled down the number of Farm-to-Fork proposals to just 48 “compromise amendments.”

Most of those amendments are generally acceptable to Europe’s farmers, ranchers, food processors and feed manufacturers, but many “cross the red lines and quite simply call into question our food sovereignty, the future of our agriculture and our rural areas,” says the largest EU farm and co-op organization, COPA-COGECA.

The new amendments seek to further reduce the number of pesticides and fertilizers that farmers can use, set lower maximums for food ingredients such as sugar, and increase taxes on foods such as meat. The base text of Farm to Fork already aims to place significant burdens on farmers, demanding 50% cuts in pesticide use on farms and antimicrobials in medicated feed while also requiring a reduction in fertilizer use of 20% by 2030.

Major European farm groups have been pushing back, but the new amendments will only compound the proposed new burdens, say groups like COPA-COGECA and the European Compound Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC). 

The four amendments with the greatest potential to harm the ag sector would require European governments to “accelerate” the process of doing away with animal confinement out of concern that it promotes the spread of disease, set lower maximums for pesticide and fertilizer use, establish new taxes on “unhealthy food products or those with a high environmental footprint,” require “binding food waste reduction targets of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030,” require new food labels that document “welfare indicators” and set lower maximum levels for salt, fat and sugar in food, says COPA-COGECA.

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Even before the committees voted, 27 European farm groups such as FEFAC, COCERAL, the European association of trade in cereals, oilseeds, pulses, olive oil, oils and fats and animal feed, and Europe’s Association of Poultry Producers (AVEC) signed on to a letter, pleading parliamentarians not to approve the amendments.

“If the EU wants us to succeed, it will have to support us with a pragmatic political framework based on realistic objectives that are consistent with its trade policy, safeguard a level playing field with imports and provide the necessary assistance for a sustainable transition,” the groups said in the joint statement. “Environmental sustainability cannot be disconnected from social and economic sustainability, and this synergy goes together with incremental and pragmatic targets.”

Their efforts ultimately failed and now Europe’s parliament is moving forward. It is set to vote on the newly amended Farm to Fork text in October during a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, and, according to EU government officials, there’s likely not much that the European farm groups can do about it.

While lawmakers charged with overseeing the process, known as rapporteurs, can whittle down the number of amendments further, that’s unlikely to happen because of the political animosity it could provoke, said one EU government official.

And there’s also the fact that the committees — made up of Parliament members — voted overwhelmingly, 38 to 8, to approve the 48 amendments.

EU farm groups say they still don’t have a full picture of how big the impact of Farm to Fork will be on European agriculture. The Joint Research Center — the European Commission’s science and knowledge service — recently released an analysis, but cautioned it should not be treated as a comprehensive impact assessment. Still, the analysis did show most farm production for oilseeds, grains, dairy and meat dropping by 2030 as a result of Farm to Fork and the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy.

Members of Parliament in the agriculture and environment committees “have decided to go further than the (Farm to Fork) Strategy proposed by the Commission and make the necessary transition untenable for farmers,” COPA-COGECA said in a statement after the September vote. “This is all the more difficult to understand for the farming community as we are all only beginning to realize the considerable impacts of this strategy in its basic version proposed by the Commission.”

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