Farm to Fork strategy unveiled. Sustainability, innovation and growth from producer to consumer

Camilla Palla
Credit: Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures

On May 20, the Commission presented the Farm to Fork strategy, a further step in the framework of the Green Deal, the European plan for achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050. Farm to Fork foresees the transition to more sustainable food systems involving the whole value chain. The strategy, together with the European Strategy on Biodiversity presented on the same day, has been added to a set of tools already on the table which are part of the Green Deal and which include the European Just Transition Mechanism and Fund, the proposal for a European climate law, a new European industrial strategy and the action plan for the circular economy.

The Farm to Fork strategy involves three main areas. The first is dedicated to building a food chain working to serve consumers, producers, the climate and the environment. Europe is already a world leader when it comes to reducing emissions. The European agricultural sector is the only global sector to have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 20% since 1990. Nevertheless, food remains one of the main drivers of climate change and one of the most environmentally impacting sectors. The aim is to ensure that the whole value chain has a neutral or positive impact on the environment. Sustainable food production will therefore require the identification and development of new business models, including a drastic reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilizers, to be reduced by 50% and 20%, respectively, by 2030. Equally ambitious is the goal of halving the massive use of antibiotics in intensive livestock farming throughout Europe by 2030.

Alongside sustainability, the system will have to ensure food security, a vital aspect emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU must be able to guarantee food security for all its citizens, including before crises and endogenous or exogenous shocks such as that generated by the coronavirus. While food supply has been guaranteed, the pandemic has highlighted a number of weaknesses in the system that need to be addressed in the future, such as disruptions in supply chains, limited transport capacity and labour shortages. The transition to circular economy models should, therefore, be accompanied by actions to support SMEs, in line with the objectives and initiatives proposed under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). However, this transition should also involve consumers, as the current model of food consumption is unsustainable from both a health and environmental point of view. For this reason, the actions to be taken must range from campaigns to raise consumer awareness to increasing the supply of sustainable products at affordable prices, as well as food and water waste reductions, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The second priority is to ensure that this sustainable transition is supported by research, technological innovation and investment. As far as research and investment is concerned, several Commission programmes are and will continue to be dedicated to the food sector.  Horizon Europe, for example, will set up partnerships to create a governance mechanism for R&I involving Member States and economic actors throughout the value chain to provide innovative solutions and multi-dimensional benefits. Internet access in all rural areas is another objective of the strategy. The idea is not only to ensure equal access to online services for all citizens, but also to boost and make agricultural production more efficient. Access to broadband in rural areas will enable the systematic use of precision farming and artificial intelligence, systems that will reduce costs for farmers, improve the management of available resources, especially soil and water, and reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides. The objective is ambitious with the Commission aiming at achieving 100% access in rural areas by 2025.

Lastly, the third area involves the perspective of a global transition. The EU action is part of a transformation promoted at a global level, within the framework provided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Tools such as international cooperation and trade policies allow the Union to export its standards and objectives and strengthen cooperation with third countries, especially in key areas such as animal welfare, pesticide use and the fight against antimicrobial resistance. Furthermore, the transition to sustainable food systems represents a huge economic opportunity. Citizens’ expectations are progressively evolving, leading to significant changes in the food market. The implementation of this strategy would put the Union in a position of primacy, an opportunity to lead the market and provide an example of sustainable transition on a global scale.

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