It is critical that U.S. agribusinesses are aware of the six overlapping objectives of the European Union’s new Farm-to-Fork strategy and how it may impact exports to and from member countries.
The European Union’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy is the agricultural component of the European Green Deal, which consists of policy initiatives to make Europe the first climate-neutral region with zero net emissions by 2050. In short, the F2F Strategy is a comprehensive 10-year plan to promote sustainable food production and consumption. It is primarily intended to reduce the impact of food production on the environment and climate, ensure food security and public health, and generate economic returns to those involved in the food supply chain. Understanding the impact of the six overlapping objectives of the F2F, listed below, will be critically important to U.S agribusiness.
- Ensure the sustainable production of Europe’s food. This will be accomplished primarily by tripling the land under organic production and will also require reducing the following by 2050: pesticide use (by 50%), the sale of antimicrobials for farmed animals (by 50%), and the use of fertilizers (by 20%).
- Reduce European agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 20-35%, which is likely to be supported by restricting land use for animal production.
- Maintain farmer income and food affordability. This is to be provided by Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-27 financial incentives to support the adoption of new sustainable practices by farmers, and the integration of new technologies and monitoring standards.
- Protect biodiversity, which could result in more binding targets towards restoring sensitive lands and increased efforts to support pollinators and forest health.
- Enhance worker safety by decreased use and exposure to pesticides and increased pesticide application training.
- Build a resilient and secure food production and delivery system without disruption to food production or increased prices.
The F2F is supported by the proposed Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR) which would effectively codify the reduction targets in all EU member states. Though only EU member states are legally obligated to these objectives, the measures taken to achieve these targets may directly impact those who rely on exports from the EU as well as exporting to the EU.
The plausibility of simultaneously reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, increasing land under organic production, and increasing biodiversity without reducing production or increasing prices has been questioned. Food security concerns have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and higher costs of certain inputs and commodities, such as natural gas and fertilizer. Decreased agricultural output in the EU could result in food insecurity not only within the EU, but also for markets that rely on exports from the EU.
Though only EU member states are legally obligated to these objectives, the measures taken to achieve these targets may directly impact those who rely on exports from the EU as well as exporting to the EU.
As member states are required to reduce their pesticide and fertilizer use, the EU will likely enact more restrictive policies on maximum residue levels (MRLs), which will significantly reduce the number of available pest management tools to those who export into EU countries. The European Commission (EC) has collaborated with member states to address the impact on farmers through the CAP 2023-27, but this policy provides financial and technical support only to EU farmers, even though the restrictive MRL policies would apply to any farmer intending to export to the EU market. In essence, non-EU farmers would be subjected to the same limits of EU farmers, without the compensation, technologies, or training granted to EU farmers or consideration of region-specific pest issues that are prevalent outside of the EU.
The F2F marks the first time the EC has presented a holistic approach to the transition toward a legislative Framework for Sustainable Food Systems (FSFS) that contains common definitions, general principles, requirements, and responsibilities for all actors. However, it also marks an ambitious attempt to heighten the role of agriculture in environmental protection and public health. To succeed, it will require a high level of coordination and consideration of its global impacts from both European and non-European stakeholders.