Still much to learn about controversial European Union ag proposal

The European Union's proposed Farm to Fork initiative, part of a larger EU Green Deal, generates both strong feelings and uncertainty.

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Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC

There's disagreement over whether a controversial European Union agricultural proposal, known as the Farm to Fork initiative and part of a larger Green Deal, would be a good thing. But speakers in a recent webinar on the subject generally agreed that more time and information is needed to fully evaluate its impact.

"The Green Deal itself covers many sectors (of the European economy) directly, and literally every sector indirectly. This requires a huge policy review and overhaul across many areas of European legislation," a lengthy, complicated process, said Alan Hardacre, director of public affairs for CropLife Europe, which represents Europe's crop industry.

Further, the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, a key part of the Green Deal, is just beginning to be implemented, and figuring out its potential impact, particularly on U.S. agriculture, isn't easy, he said.

"It's quite difficult to tell what the full impact of the whole package will be until all of the items are in fact concluded," he said.

Hardacre was among the panelists during a April 27 webinar on "Understanding the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and Its Implications for U.S. Agriculture." The event, sponsored by the Farm Foundation, which says "it accelerates practical solutions for agriculture," was open to the news media.


Other speakers were Tassos Haniotis, director of Strategy, Simplification and Policy Analysis, Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission; Marta Messa, director of Slow Food Europe; and Jayson Beckman and Maros Ivanic, economists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, or ERS.

Here's the background of the European proposal:

The initiative, sometimes known as "Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies," is proposed by the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union — the political and economic union of 27 primarily European countries with a combined population of about 450 million.

The proposal is part of an EU "Green Deal" that aims to promote sustainability in ag. It calls for a 20% reduction in the use of fertilizer and 50% reductions in the use of pesticides and antimicrobials. It also calls for 10% of existing farmland to be removed from ag use, all by 2030. The proposed reductions would be from 2020 levels.

A recent ERS report concluded that the initiative threatens to drive up global food prices, cut into trade worldwide and worsen food insecurity around the world. Beckman and Ivanic were among the authors of that report.

Since the report was published, the report's authors have received feedback from Europeans who question some of its assumptions and conclusions.

During the webinar, Haniotis said he disagreed with parts of the report. For example, the EU proposal would boost innovation, not stifle it, which would offset some of the negative impacts projected by ERS, he said.

Beckman acknowledged that the ERS report didn't take some important factors, including labeling, pesticide risk, animal welfare, organic production and environmental considerations, into account.


He and Ivanic said the ERS has adjusted some of its assumptions, and the results weren't quite as negative as before.

Messa, with Slow Food Europe, called the EU initiative "an important stepping-stone. We need to move swiftly."

Her organization, founded in 1989, describes itself as "a global, grassroots organization" that "envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet.

Messa said while Slow Food Europe isn't opposed to science or innovation, it believes there's too much attention on productivity. For example, curtailing food waste would eliminate at least some of the need to raise productivity to feed the world's growing population, she said.

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