Farm to Fork Strategy Under Fire Ahead of European Elections in 2024

Supporters of the landmark sustainable agriculture strategy say Farm to Fork must be codified into law by September, 2023.

By Daniel Dawson
Mar. 27, 2023 13:59 UTC

Ahead of European-wide elec­tions in spring 2024, politi­cians in Brussels are scram­bling to cod­ify many of the polit­i­cal pro­grams included in the European Commission’s land­mark Farm to Fork Strategy into law.

However, the after­math of the Covid-19 pan­demic, the energy cri­sis fueled by the Russian inva­sion of Ukraine and food infla­tion have embold­ened crit­ics of the strat­egy, which seeks to make farm­ing and the food indus­try more sus­tain­able.

We need to sys­tem­at­i­cally think about what food secu­rity means in the E.U. It’s not about being food secure with the large amount of feed grains we have. It’s about diver­si­fi­ca­tion.- Shefali Sharma, direc­tor for Europe, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Political infight­ing in the halls of power in Brussels has also jeop­ar­dized the strat­egy, with sig­nif­i­cant divi­sions emerg­ing around lim­its on the use of pes­ti­cides, stan­dard­ized food labels and ani­mal wel­fare.

Advocates of the Farm to Fork Strategy believe that these next six months are absolutely crit­i­cal for cod­i­fy­ing pro­posed pro­grams into leg­is­la­tion. After September 2023, many worry that politi­cians will shift their focus to the elec­tions.

See Also:Organic Farms Produce Less, but Are More Cost Effective, Study Finds

To under­score the urgency of the sit­u­a­tion, a group of 286 civil soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions led by the World Wide Fund for Nature signed an open let­ter last month to Ursula von der Leyen, pres­i­dent of the European Commission, urg­ing the com­mis­sion to act.

This com­mis­sion was very ambi­tious with the amount of leg­is­la­tion they thought they could pass,” Shefali Sharma, the direc­tor of the European office of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), a sig­na­tory of the open let­ter, told Olive Oil Times. Now it’s really crunch time.”

While it is likely too late to get all the com­po­nents of the Farm to Fork Strategy cod­i­fied into law, Sharma said the sus­tain­able use of pes­ti­cide leg­is­la­tion, soil health law and sus­tain­able food sys­tem law should be given the high­est pri­or­ity.

Many of us see the sus­tain­able food sys­tem law as an oppor­tu­nity to define what sus­tain­able food sys­tems in Europe should look like,” Sharma said. We need a really ambi­tious set of rules.”

Farm to Fork Strategy

The Farm to Fork Strategy is a com­pre­hen­sive plan launched by the European Commission in 2020 with the aim of cre­at­ing a more sus­tain­able and health­ier food sys­tem in Europe. Its key objec­tives include reduc­ing the use of pes­ti­cides, pro­mot­ing sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices, reduc­ing food waste, improv­ing food label­ing and infor­ma­tion, and pro­mot­ing health­ier diets. The strat­egy also aims to sup­port the devel­op­ment of short food sup­ply chains, improve ani­mal wel­fare and encour­age the use of sus­tain­able food pack­ag­ing.

However, crit­ics of the strat­egy, includ­ing Copa-Cogeca, an influ­en­tial union of European farm­ers and agri-coop­er­a­tives, believe none of the leg­is­la­tion imple­ment­ing the Farm to Fork Strategy should be passed until the con­cerns of European farm­ers are addressed.

Europe and the wider world have fun­da­men­tally changed since the pub­li­ca­tion of the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies in May 2020,” the union told Olive Oil Times. Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, the energy cri­sis and cli­mate change are all dri­vers that need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion by the com­mis­sion and E.U. insti­tu­tions when dis­cussing and imple­ment­ing all the leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives already pre­sented or to be pre­sented.”

Copa-Cogeca believes ensur­ing food secu­rity, avail­abil­ity and afford­abil­ity at a time of ris­ing food com­mod­ity prices and pro­duc­tion costs should be the European Commission’s pri­or­ity.

The union also wor­ries that the com­plete imple­men­ta­tion of the Farm to Fork Strategy in its cur­rent form would make Europe too depen­dent on imports.

In the cur­rent polit­i­cally pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion, we feel the E.U. should focus more than ever on the goal of ensur­ing food secu­rity and afford­abil­ity instead of tak­ing action at the expense of our pro­duc­tion,” Copa-Cogeca said.

Some of Copa-Cogeca’s claims are sup­ported by recent research. According to a 2021 study from HFFA Research, an agri­cul­ture con­sul­tancy, to ful­fill the var­i­ous objec­tives of the Farm to Fork Strategy, agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion would tend to con­sid­er­ably decrease until 2030.”


A sep­a­rate 2021 study, com­mis­sioned by the Grain Club, a grain pro­duc­ers’ union, and under­taken by the University of Kiel, found that European pro­duc­tion of milk, beef, cere­als and oilseeds would fall sub­stan­tially with a cor­re­spond­ing price increase.

Proponents of the Farm to Fork Strategy argue that any sus­tain­able agri­cul­tural sys­tem would require reduced meat and dairy con­sump­tion any­ways due to their out­sized impact on agri­cul­tural green­house gas emis­sions.

While there are no esti­mates on how the full imple­men­ta­tion of the Farm to Fork Strategy would impact the olive oil sec­tor, Copa Cogeca said it likely would be neg­a­tive.

Implementing the strategy’s tar­gets to the fullest will require addi­tional efforts for European olive and olive oil pro­duc­ers and will fur­ther weaken European pro­duc­tion,” the union said.

However, Sharma, the IATP and the other 285 sig­na­to­ries of the open let­ter reject the premise that the Farm to Fork Strategy will hurt food secu­rity.

They argue that bio­di­ver­sity loss and cli­mate change remain the most sig­nif­i­cant threats to food secu­rity, and enact­ing leg­is­la­tion around the Farm to Fork Strategy is the best way to mit­i­gate these effects.

We need to sys­tem­at­i­cally think about what food secu­rity means in the E.U.,” Sharma said. It’s not about being food secure with the large amount of feed grains we have.”

It’s about diver­si­fi­ca­tion,” she added. It’s about mak­ing sure that we have enough decen­tral­ized food sys­tems within the E.U. that allow coun­tries to absorb global shocks, be they pan­demic-related shocks or war-related shocks or cli­mate-related shocks.”

Sharma believes the war in Ukraine has become a straw man” for the agribusi­ness lobby to con­tinue attack­ing the Farm to Fork Strategy.

The minute the Ukraine war started, there was already a con­certed effort by Copa-Cogeca and oth­ers to try to water down the impact that the Farm to Fork Strategy could have,” she said.

For its part, Copa-Cogeca agreed that leg­is­la­tion should be passed to define what a sus­tain­able food sys­tem looks likes.

Copa-Cogeca believes that this frame­work can be an oppor­tu­nity as we urgently need a def­i­n­i­tion for food sus­tain­abil­ity and that to ensure a truly sus­tain­able food sys­tem,” the union said.

E.U. farm­ers and coop­er­a­tives want to pro­duce food, make the tran­si­tion to sus­tain­able food sys­tems a suc­cess and pro­vide solu­tions in the fight against cli­mate change,” Copa-Cogeca added.

However, Sharma points out that any tran­si­tion to sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture will come with sig­nif­i­cant costs, espe­cially since cer­tain health and soci­etal costs of the cur­rent agri­cul­tural sys­tem are not fac­tored into food prices.

Frankly, there will be costs, but the sys­tem that we have today is also quite costly. We’re just not cal­cu­lat­ing all of those costs,” she said. There are envi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health costs to the sys­tem that we have in place today that are still being paid by the pub­lic.”

So it’s about rethink­ing how we’re pay­ing for those envi­ron­men­tal and pub­lic health prob­lems and mov­ing that money towards the tran­si­tion that we need to see,” Sharma con­cluded.

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