Farmers and ag stakeholders in the European Union don't object to the goals of the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, but they do have problems with the way the European Commission is trying to accomplish them, according to speakers on an Agri-Pulse-hosted webinar Thursday sponsored by the Crop Protection Action Coalition for Trade.

Palle Borgström, president of the Swedish Farmers Federation and a vice president of COPA, shared in a pre-recorded message that the strategy  requires a 50% reduction in pesticides and antibiotics and increased organic production, while also mandating that 10% of current agricultural land be set aside to promote biodiversity.

Paula de Vera, senior policy advisory for Copa-Cogeca, a group representing both European farmers and cooperatives, said farmers’ voices have not been heard, and government officials have called the COPA president a “scaremonger.”

She sees the approach as a potential opportunity, but at the same time as a challenge that raises various concerns. “Some of these objectives can strengthen our efforts to tackle climate change, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity,” de Vera said, adding if done correctly it could actually make EU agriculture more competitive and encourage innovation.

However, in formulating the path toward achieving the goals of the strategy, de Vera said the European Commission, or EC, failed to listen to farmers or consider the sustainability, environmental and socioeconomic impacts. The COVID pandemic and Ukraine’s invasion worsened an already difficult scenario as the EU forged ahead to implement the new plan.

Borgström said that on top of those disruptions to agricultural markets, the strategy’s measures are “extremely dangerous” and will contribute to greater food insecurity both in the EU and around the world.

Several studies quantify the impacts of the implementation of the Farm to Fork strategy, which the speakers said would result in production losses of 10-20% and price increases of 20-40%, and ultimately force EU countries to import more food.

De Vera called on the EC, the EU's governing body, to conduct a full market impact assessment on the strategy.

Borgström said the commission viewed farmers as a problem and agriculture as a sector that must be restricted and controlled. “We are very much convinced that farmers are part of a solution and not part of the problem,” he said. “We need to improve our sustainability with science-based methods and not restrictions or reduction of production.”

The European Union has tried to politically impose these standards on other countries, but de Vera said she hopes the commission will eventually recognize that legally it “cannot step into each other’s gardens.”

Ted McKinney, chief executive officer of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, said he admires the objectives of Europe’s Green Deal, but the tactics are “horribly misguided.” 

During his recent stint as trade undersecretary at USDA during the Trump administration, McKinney said he visited the EU four times, but the Europeans only reciprocated once. He said he invited commission members to visit the U.S. or other countries that utilize many of the tools now restricted by the EU to help them gain a better understanding of the benefits of those tools that can also help meet their objectives.

He urged the EC to rethink the data and impact of those tactics. “Go back to your objectives and say, ‘Can we meet those in another way?’” And when that happens, he said, “We will be there to help you every step of the way.”

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