On 18 March, the European Commission made the decision to postpone the presentation of its ‘Farm to Fork’ (F2F) and Biodiversity strategy due to coronavirus disruptions.
Initially pushed back until around the 29 April, farmers association COPA-COGECA has now reportedly lobbied for a second postponement, for the same reasons, which could see strategy communication delayed until the summer or autumn.
A collection of civil society groups, non-governmental organisations and professional networks have spoken out against additional postponements, dismissing the coronavirus pandemic as a valid excuse when a transition towards agroecology is at stake.
COPA-COGECA pushes for delay
The F2F strategy falls under European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s European Green Deal, which she says cannot be achieved without tackling the issue of food sustainability.
The strategy, first announced 11 December 2019, strives to create ‘sustainable food along the whole value chain’. According to the Commission, it will outline key deliverables required to ensure a ‘fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system’.
Closely linked to the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the farm to fork strategy will address pesticides, fertilisers, organic farming and obesity, in an effort to become, according to the Commission, ‘the gold standard for sustainability’.
Yet in a letter viewed by the Agriculture and Rural Convention (ARC) 2020 – which with civil society networks and organisations from 22 EU Member States is pushing for a reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – COPA-COGECA chief Pekka Pesonen reportedly voiced his support of a second postponement.
Specifically, Pesonen asked the chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Norbert Lins to carry out an ‘inception impact assessment’ before taking any political or regulatory decision related to the farm to fork strategy or European Green Deal.
The COPA-COGECA chief is concerned that the implementation of new restrictions would increase strain on an industry already under duress due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Such an assessment would mean a further delay on the setting of new pesticide, fertiliser and antibiotic targets.
The centre-right Group of the European People’s Party (EPP Group) is also calling for a second postponement, until ‘at least after the summer’.
“The strategy would impose new rules and restrictions on farmers across Europe, who are currently coping with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and have to ensure food production in Europe at the same time,” said EPP Group Spokesman for Agriculture and Rural Development Herbert Dorfmann MEP. “It is surely not the right moment to impose additional rules on farmers.”
‘An emergency must not be a reason for freezing Sustainable Agriculture’
However, a potential second postponement of the farm to fork strategy has been met with criticism by many groups and organisations across the bloc.
Professional organisation the Latvian Association of Organic Agriculture (LBLA), for example, tweeted its rebuttal to COPA-COGECA’s position, noting that “an emergency must not be a reason for freezing Sustainable Agriculture”.
The call by @COPACOGECA to postpone the #FarmToFork strategy leads— Organic Latvia (@OrganicLatvia) April 8, 2020
away from a #BetterFuture in the #countryside. The #GreenDeal must enter into force, the postponement of #FarmToFork is not
acceptable. An emergency must not be a reason for freezing ️ #SustainableAgriculture.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, which aims to ‘eliminate dependency on chemical pesticides’, similarly took to social media in response to the potential delay: “COVID-19 isn’t an excuse to delay EU Farm to Fork and EU Biodiversity strategies. Our farmers need support to transition towards agroecology, reduce the use of pesticides and protect bees.”
#COVID19 isn't an excuse to delay #EUFarm2Fork & #EUBiodiversity strategies. Our #farmers need support to transition towards #agroecology, reduce use of #pesticides & protect #bees — PAN Europe (@EuropePAN) March 31, 2020
Our letter to @EU_Commission signed by >80 orgs #savebeesandfarmershttps://t.co/YZ77XGY7xupic.twitter.com/FPVpksvKKR
In the tweet, PAN cited a letter to Executive Vice President of the European Commission Francs Timmermans, in which more than 80 organisations call for the European Green Deal to cut pesticides and switch to agroecology – without delay.
Signatories of the letter, penned 31 March, include PAN, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe, Compassion in World Farming, and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).
“The significant decline of bees and pollinators in Europe and worldwide, together with the collapse of biodiversity we are currently witnessing has rightly raised alarm in the scientific community and general public,” noted the signatories.
“It is now finally widely accepted that our food production model is a major driver of this ecology collapse, largely because of the massive use of synthetic pesticides it relies upon.”
The coalition is calling on the Commission to start the phase-out of synthetic pesticides from EU agriculture by setting a target to cut use by 80% by 2030 and a phase-out by 2035, and set ambitious targets to restore biodiversity, especially in agricultural areas.
“We look forward to the publication of ambitious and credible Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies that are fit for purpose, lead us away from the catastrophe we are facing, and meet the expectations of citizens and farmers.
“Time is running out for both nature and small-scale farming and we call on these to be central to your efforts.”