Updated: May 26, 2020
The much-awaited Farm to Fork Strategy (F2FS) was released yesterday by the European Commission (EC), along with the new Biodiversity Strategy. It will constitute a comprehensive basis for the European Union's food and agriculture policy in the coming five years.
The Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the Green Deal. It comprehensively addresses the challenges of sustainable food systems and recognises the inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet.
Motivated by six specific objectives, namely to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system; strengthen its resilience, ensure food security in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss; lead a global transition towards competitive sustainability from Farm to Fork and tap into new opportunities; the Strategy appends a comprehensive Action Plan of 27 actions all aimed at achieving these objectives.
To ensure sustainable food production, the EC addresses not only farmers but also aquaculture producers and fishers. Production methods will need to be transformed profoundly and quickly to "make the best use of nature-based, technological, digital, and space-based solutions to deliver better climate and environmental results, increase climate resilience and reduce and optimise the use of inputs' such as fertilisers and pesticides. This means the EC is planning to build on the effort of the previous European Administration in the field of Agricultural Research, mainly through the Horizon 2020 programs which supported several projects aimed at digitalising agriculture.
The transformation in production methods advocated by the EC will complete a deeper, more systemic change of agricultural business models. By linking Agriculture to the emerging Carbon Market, farmers will be able to receive payments for removing carbon from the atmosphere. These payments will depend on the regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals, outlined in the Circular Economy Action Plan, "based on robust and transparent carbon accounting to monitor and verify the authenticity of carbon removals". These initiatives will be linked to the Climate Pact, which will provide the framework for these new models.
Further, initiatives will be developed to encourage farmers to grasp opportunities to reduce methane emissions from livestock by developing the production of renewable energy and investing in anaerobic digesters for bio-gas production from agriculture waste and residues, such as manure.
These proposals both offer farmers the opportunity to diversify their streams of income by monetising sustainable practises. However, these opportunities often come at the cost of a burdensome initial investment. The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will support these investments. Indeed, the new CAP, which the Commission proposed in June 2018, aims to help farmers to improve their environmental and climate performance through a more results-oriented model, better use of data and analysis, enhanced mandatory environmental standards, new voluntary measures and an increased focus on investments into green and digital technologies and practices. Direct payment will be made more efficient through the introduction of a capping targeting mechanism, to create better incentives for farmers to achieve green ambitions and to better reach the farmers who need it the most. Further, the new 'eco-schemes' will offer a significant stream of funding to boost sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, agroecology (including organic farming), carbon farming and agroforestry.
However, those transformative opportunities will also come with new regulations for farmers. Indeed, 6 of the legislative actions proposed under the F2F Strategy will affect farmers' production methods by not only reducing the inputs of nutrients, pesticides but completely changing their approach to resources management in the farm context. Further, in the Animal production sector, animal welfare legislation will be reviewed, and higher standards are likely to be implemented. Additionally, access to critical feed materials such as soya will be restricted. However, the latter rules will be accompanied by new incentives to foster EU-grown plant proteins as well as alternative feed materials such as insects, marine feedstocks (e.g. algae) and by-products from the bio-economy (e.g. fish waste).
Food processors, food service operators and retailers shape the market and influence consumers' dietary choices through the types and nutritional composition of the food they produce, their selection of suppliers, production methods and packaging, transport, merchandising and marketing practices. To promote a sustainable food and drinks industry, the Commission will develop an EU Code of conduct for responsible business and marketing practice, accompanied by a monitoring framework. This code will seek commitments from food companies and organisations to take concrete actions on health and sustainability, focussing in particular: reformulating food products in line with guidelines for healthy; sustainable diets; reducing their environmental footprint and energy consumption by becoming more energy efficient; adapting marketing and advertising strategies taking into account the needs of the most vulnerable; ensuring that food price campaigns do not undermine citizens' perception of the value of food and reducing packaging in line with the new Circular Economy Action Plan.
The Commission is also preparing an initiative to improve the corporate governance framework, including a requirement for the food industry to integrate sustainability into corporate strategies. Perhaps most importantly for the food and drinks industry, after a long-fought arm-wrestle with the EC, new uniform labelling regulations will be enforced on nutrient profiles to restrict the promotion (via nutrition or health claims) of foods high in fat, sugars and salt. Further, the Commission will revise marketing standards to provide for the uptake and supply of sustainable agricultural, fisheries and aquaculture products and to reinforce the role of sustainability criteria taking into account the possible impact of these standards on food loss and waste.
The Farm to fork Strategy will, therefore, affect all aspects of our European food systems. To take the best advantage of this revolutionary piece of legislation, farmers and all stakeholders of the food chain will need to take complete advantage of the technologies developed over the past few years by research projects funded by the Horizon 2020 program, the EIP-Agri programs and others. Find out more about these technologies in our dedicated article that will explore the impacts of the Farm to Fork Strategy for Food Technology Developers.