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Calls for “carefully balanced” Implementation of the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy

More organic farming, fewer pesticides, halving the use of antibiotics: these are some of the key points of the Farm to Fork Strategy developed by the European Commission with the aim of reducing the overall environmental and climatic footprint of the EU food system, protecting public health and safeguarding the livelihoods of economic operators. The overarching aim of the strategy is that agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture as well as the food value chain should make a fitting contribution to the pursuit of the 2030 Climate Target Plan and of the aim of a climate-neutral EU by 2050.

The Conference of Chairpersons of the committees on the environment, energy, transport and agriculture from national parliaments and the European Parliament was held on Monday, 5 October 2020, as part of the Parliamentary Dimension of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. During the second part of the conference, entitled “New challenges for the CAP (2021-2027), focusing particularly on sustainable food production: Farm to Fork”, delegates welcomed the Farm to Fork Strategy in principle but also urged that it be implemented in a carefully balanced manner.

Alois Gerig: our farmers are key workers

Farmers in the EU, said Alois Gerig (CDU), chair of the Bundestag Committee on Food and Agriculture and host of the session, had proved during the coronavirus pandemic “that we can rely on them, even in times of crisis”. The supply of high-quality foodstuffs had been constantly maintained. That, he said, was the mission of the farming community. “That is why our farmers, too, are key workers”, said Mr Gerig. That applied in equal measure to those who used conventional practices and those who farmed organically.

Agriculture as a major problem-solver for future challenges

In Mr Gerig’s view, striking a balance between the environmental and economic aspects of agriculture was one of the greatest challenges. To this end, he said, farmers would have to be supported financially. Mr Gerig stressed the need for a judicious approach and warned against “trying to outdo each other with our green credentials”. Agriculture, he conceded, was surely also partly to blame “for a lack of environmental protection, for the eradication of insects and even for climate change”. It was, however, primarily a major problem-solver for future challenges.

Mr Gerig called for a level competitive playing field as well as for greater appreciation of food and its producers. The chair of the Bundestag Agriculture Committee added that he would like to see young people once again feel motivated to live in the countryside and to take over their parents’ farms.

Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner: the primary aim of agriculture is to feed people

Julia Klöckner (CDU), Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, also referred to the need for carefully balanced implementation of the Farm to Fork Strategy. It remained the primary aim of agriculture, she said, to feed people “with food of good quality at affordable prices”. At the present time, said the Minister, much was being asked of farmers. They were expected to adapt to a green architecture, although that was also in their own interests. “Protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species are consistent with agriculture”, Ms Klöckner emphasised. There was no shortage of demands, she said, particularly from outside the farming world. The Farm to Fork Strategy, she said, had defined very specific targets, such as a 50% reduction in the use of plant protection products and a 20% reduction in the use of fertilisers. That sounded terrific and also enjoyed public support, but “It must also be possible for farmers to meet these demands in practice”.

Discontent with the Commission’s strategy in the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council

In the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of the EU, which Julia Klöckner was currently chairing and in which the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was currently under discussion, the member states’ agriculture ministers had expressed discontent, and in some cases deep discontent, with the Farm to Fork Strategy, the German Minister said. With regard to the proposed 50% reduction in the use of plant protection products, she said, it still had to be established whether the target was 50% “per farm or per member state”. Nor was it clear whether it would count for anything “if great efforts have previously been made to reduce inputs of plant protection products”. A scientific basis and an impact assessment were important, said Ms Klöckner. It must still be possible for farmers to keep their crops healthy. There was agreement in the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council on the need for a sustainably productive agricultural sector. This sustainability, she said, comprised three pillars: “The environmental, economic and social issues must be considered and resolved together”, said the Minister.

EP Agriculture Committee chair Norbert Lins: impact assessment needed for the Strategy

Norbert Lins, chair of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, made it clear during the conference that questions about the Strategy were also being asked in his committee. Its members were in agreement “that the new CAP will be greener”, but the required degree of flexibility, he said, was a subject of discussion. For reasons of fair competition, however, there was a need for common rules. What was required, according to Mr Lins, was a minimum budget for agricultural environmental measures as well as a minimum budget for climate measures.   

Like the previous speakers, the chair of the Agriculture Committee in the European Parliament also emphasised the continuing need to guarantee food security and the competitiveness of European agriculture. In Mr Lins’s view, the question of innovations played too small a part in the Strategy. The main requirement, he said, was an impact assessment for the Strategy. “There is no ultimate gain if agricultural produce is increasingly sourced from outside the EU”, said Lins. The EU must retain its pioneering role, he said, so that others could follow. Self-isolation could not be the goal.

Commissioner Wojciechowski sees better opportunities for small and medium-sized family businesses

In the view of Janusz Wojciechowski, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, European agriculture was doing an excellent job in the present coronavirus crisis. Food security continued to be maintained, he said, and the food supply chain had not broken down anywhere in Europe. Yet action was still needed. Mr Wojciechowski referred to the demise of farming businesses. Four million farms, he said, had dropped out of agricultural production in the past decade. One of the consequences was that agricultural production in some sectors was beginning to resemble industry. Intensive farming, however, made it more and more difficult to ensure proper health and welfare conditions for farm animals.

In the strategies forming part of the Green Deal the Commissioner sees formidable challenges but also “great opportunities” for European agriculture, “especially for small and medium-sized family farms”. In the current conditions, he said, these farms were often the losers in the race for more and more intensive production.

Mr Wojciechowski expressed gratification that the Commission had an adequate budget to meet the present challenges. Under the Commission’s plans, spending on the Common Agricultural Policy was to be increased by more than EUR 26 billion above the amount earmarked in the initial proposal of 2018. The European Council, he said, had finally agreed to an increase of more than EUR 21 billion.

Broad range of views among the Members of Parliament

During the debate, demands were made and reservations expressed in both directions. Fears were voiced that the European Council might water down the Strategy. Counterarguments focused on the concern that overambitious targets might make EU agriculture less competitive. There were also calls for the CAP to be revised in the light of lessons learned from the COVID pandemic, for appropriate support for smallholders and for measures to ease the transition between generations. The view was also expressed that farmers should be given more access to innovation and new technology. (hau/6 October 2020)

The summary report on the Green Deal section of the Conference of Chairpersons of committees on environment, energy, transport and agriculture from national parliaments and the European Parliament can be found here.

Videos relating to the Conference of Chairpersons on “The European Green Deal and CAP” on 5 October 2020

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Film of the Conference of Chairpersons of committees on "The European Green Deal and CAP"

Here you can get a brief insight into the topics discussed at the Conference of Chairpersons of committees on environment, energy, transport and agriculture from national parliaments and the European Parliament on "The European Green Deal and CAP" on 5 October 2020 in Berlin.

More information can be found here.

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Conference films

00:03:01

Film of the Conference of Chairpersons of committees on "The European Green Deal and CAP"

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Sylvia Kotting-Uhl at the video conference “The European Green Deal and CAP: for a sustainable and climate-neutral Europe”

00:00:59

Cem Özdemir at the video conference “The European Green Deal and CAP: for a sustainable and climate-neutral Europe”

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