In the latest installment of the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) Party’s “Europe Debates” series, agricultural leaders from the European Union and United States discussed the EU’s new Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy and the future of global trade in a post-COVID world.
Moderated by ECR Director Richard Milsom, the panel included EU Agricultural Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, controversial agrochemical advocate Jon Entine, along with two members of the European Parliament, Anna Fotyga and Hermann Tertsch.
According to Commissioner Wojciechowski, the pandemic underscores the critical need for a more sustainable, self-reliant European food system, which the new F2F Strategy is designed to achieve.
“We must [invest in] local farms because it may not be possible to get food from farther away,” says Wojciechowski. And “by linking agriculture more closely to local processing and markets, [F2F] will also reduce transport needs.”
As the world’s largest agricultural importer, the EU sources over 93 million tonnes of products from other countries annually, according to data from the European Commission. And within its borders, the EU transports 3 million tonnes of food each year.
“This is a huge economic cost, paid by the farmers, by consumers paying more for food and [it] also comes at huge cost to the environment,” says Wojciechowski.
By investing in regional infrastructure, the F2F Strategy aims to make European food production more efficient and affordable while simultaneously reducing its carbon footprint.
As part of the Green New Deal, the EU is setting a number of climate change mitigation targets including continental carbon neutrality by 2050. The F2F Strategy will play a significant role in achieving this goal.
But Secretary Perdue says Europe’s plan to make agriculture more sustainable could limit innovation and reduce agricultural productivity for EU farmers.
He argues that the F2F does not take EU farmers’ best interests into account. “You cannot take away the tools your farmers need to compete in the global economy.”
Tertsch, a parliament member representing Spain, concurs. He says that policy makers must end the “criminalization of [conventional agriculture]” and focus more on helping farmers.
In the U.S., Perdue says American agriculture embraces innovation and technology and is “achieving a dramatic increase in productivity with fewer resources.”
This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an Agriculture Innovation Agenda, which aims to increase U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent while cutting its environmental footprint in half by 2050.
Perdue also warns that “as proposed, the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies will be extremely trade prohibitive and jeopardize agricultural output,” putting transatlantic trade at risk. He says the EU should let the consumer decide what products to put on their tables.
According to Fotyga, a representative of Poland, “the EU [is] a global player” with “responsibility to western and eastern neighbors affected by COVID-19.”
But Wojciechowski insists that F2F does not imply any new trade barriers. “Our ambition is to be competitive in the world market, not in the quantity of food production, but by the quality.”
To this point, Wojciechowski argues that farmers and rural communities are at the heart of F2F. “We want to strengthen the economic security of farmers in the EU, and also support resilience of farmers to crisis situations.”
To achieve food security in a post-COVID world, Wojciechowski says the F2F Strategy “will motivate farmers to adopt sustainable production methods,” and ensure land is viable “not only for today but for tomorrow and future generations.”
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