The Farm2Fork strategy is out for consultation at present, closing on 16th March. It is self-described as a sustainable food strategy is key to achieving the goals of the EU’s Green Deal. This strategy “sets out the regulatory and non-regulatory measures needed to create more efficient, climate-smart systems that provide healthy food, while securing a decent living for EU farmers and fishermen.” So how is the process unfolding, and how does – or will – it relate to the CAP?
Who’s doing what?
ARC2020 has gained access to leaked drafts of the Farm to Fork (farm2fork) from January and February. The first thing to note from February’s draft is who is doing what in the farm2fork. The previous (January) leaked farm2fork did not name specific Directorate Generals (DGs) as leading on various actions, though it was known that there would be a sharing of areas among different DGs, and that SANTE would lead.
In this February version, different DGs are selected for the different actions – SANTE (Health), COMP (Competition) ENVI (Environment) MARE (Maritime) GROW (economic growth) TRADE (trade) DEVCO (international cooperation/development).
Now that the DGs are named and assigned to actions, its even clearer now that with SANTE is leading on more than any other DGs, with few of the actions to be led by DG AGRI. Those that are relate to marketing agricultural produce, ensuring that the CAP Strategic Plans deliver on the farm2fork strategy and on developing a new organic action plan.
AGRI has a role in others, and in none of these is it listed as the lead. These include an action to “support primary producers in the transition”, which makes reference to an EU Carbon Farming Manual (action led by DG Comp) and others to do with non-EU countries and with studies.
Its all about the targets and action
The farm2fork document has objectives, targets and actions. While objectives are important from a big picture perspective, targets and actions are where the important content is, as these involve specifics, activities, and can result in change.
The five main overarching objectives in this version are:
Stimulate Sustainable food processing, retail, hospitality, and food services practices
Promote Sustainable food consumption,facilitating the shift towards healthy, sustainable diets
Reduce food loss and waste
Combat Food Fraud Along the agri-food chain
Promote a global transition to sustainable food systems
There are only five targets specified, but they are noteworthy. The first two targets listed in the document aim at reducing “synthetic chemical pesticides” and “increasing organic farming” respectively. This represents a major promotion of organic farming as a practice, when compared to CAP. Growth in organics “should be achieved by a mix of measures, including ways to stimulate demand for organic products.”
However, in both cases, there is no figure given – this is most likely because of the serious differences between civil society positions and the corporate lobby. Civil society groups demand up to an 80% reduction in pesticide use by 2030, and a phase out by 2035, while industry lobby groups argue against reductions or for voluntary targets.
The other three targets relate to obesity, antimicrobials, and fertilizers, with a view to reductions, but, again, no specific numbers given. Nevertheless, for these to be named targets shows just how far from the CAP approach the farm2fork is: CAP objective one remains income support, even in this latest attempt at reform.
Tightening up agri’s performance – record keeping, implementation, enforcement
Civil society groups will welcome the emphasis given to increased transparency, making an economic case for the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and a review and new legislation on animal welfare. And while some will welcome the inclusion of IPM (integrated pest management), in reality, as with so many issues in Europe, its all about record keeping, implementation and enforcement. Report after report from the European Count of Auditors exposes how poor the EU is on this level.
The Auditors report noted that there were big gaps in record keeping of exactly what was being used where, and how much was being used. However these were already obligations under the sustainable use of pesticides directive, which is already 10 years old. Any progress on achieving meaningful action has been delayed – member states have not delivered what they promised and the Commission has failed its duty to ensure delivery, with regard to national action plans, proper implementation and infringement procedures.
Extra focus is given to advisory services, which civil society will also welcome. This will help enable the transition to the use of alternative inputs and techniques and e.g. share knowledge on alternative techniques, finding the best rotation for their needs, etc. The CAP, which currently funds extension services, should be the “just transition fund” for agriculture.
In practice, achieving many of these things will require big decisions to be made: for example, what is the link between livestock numbers, stocking rates and reducing AMR?
However conflict may arise with the aim to “assess the status” of “new genomic techniques” which leaves open the possibility of changing the EU’s GMO legislation. Despite the Court of Justice ruling that products of so-called new breeding techniques using Crispr-CAS 9 should fall under authorisation of the existing GMO legislation, this issue doesn’t go away easily.
An emphasis on indicators in this version represents a change from the CAP approach, one that the Auditors would likely welcome. One of the weaknesses of the so-called new delivery model of the CAP and its associated indicators, which critics have noted, is that it only really uses them to check that planned expenditure matches actual expenditure: there is with no use of impact indicators envisaged, to check what is being delivered on the ground until the end of the programming period. This could result in little significant change at farm level.
Critics may note that while deforestation actions are welcome, a specific target is needed, not just reducing the ‘risk’ of deforestation. Moreover, economic incentives to convert especially biodiverse tropical forest for biofuels (such as palm oil), or for converting biodiverse temperate forest into biomass for energy, are at variance with halting deforestation.
What exactly will be the relationship between the farm2fork and the CAP Strategic Plans process?
The Commission will publish an evaluation comparing the Farm to Fork and the CAP Strategic Plans by the end of the this month – possibly the 25th. This will either find that the two are in alignment, or, in the case of a discrepancy, the Commission or the Parliament may try to align by setting amendments during the Trilogues. While the Commission expects the Member States to align to farm2fork, but this will be difficult because strategy (or the budget) is not agreed, while the CAP strategic Plans process is also still in motion. After farm2fork it is voted on and approved, alignment is more likely or at least possible, through there is always a question over how much the Commission can compel the Member States to do anything.
Member States will however be able to amend their Strategic Plans once per year, from 2021 or 2022 up to 2027.
Indeed, the February leaked draft of the farm2fork, seen by ARC2020, states that “the Commission will work with the MS to ensure the post-2020 CAP national strategic plans adhere to a concerted and ambitious approach, on, pesticides fertilizers and antibiotics”.
So farm2fork may be more impactful from 2021 on, than it is in the immediate months ahead.
DR. Oliver Moore is the communications director and editor-in-chief with ARC2020. He has a PhD in the sociology of farming and food, where he specialised in organics and direct sales. He is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, International Journal of Agricultural Resources, Governance and Ecology and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, he is a regular on Countrywide (Irish farm radio show on the national broadcaster RTE 1) and engages in other communications work around agri-food and rural issues, such as with the soil, permaculture, climate change adaptation and citizen science initiative Grow Observatory . He lectures part time in the Centre for Co-operative Studies UCC
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