Political hotspot March 2022 newsletter

As Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to rage, the EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, key parts of the European Green Deal, have been challenged by some national governments and intensive agriculture lobbies. According to these voices, food security, which is already at risk following trade implications of the war, would be further threatened by the implementation of these strategies.

The war indeed raises legitimate concerns over price increases and availability of certain agriculture inputs, namely cereals for animal feed and synthetic fertilisers. But, according to IFOAM Organics Europe’s letter to Members of the European Parliament, this crisis forces us to re-think our food production system to make it more independent from external inputs, less input intensive and more resilient. These are precisely the objectives of the Farm to Fork strategy, which remains more than ever the relevant policy direction to adapt our farming system.

Environmental organisations, economists and researchers, have also highlighted that calls to roll back environmental policies are misguided.

Environmental organisations stress EU Green Deal’s potential for environmental and social progress
On 10 March, IFOAM Organics Europe joined more than 85 environmental organisations to oppose undermining the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies. In a joint letter, the organisations asked European Commission President von der Leyen, Executive Vice-President Timmermans and Commissioners Wojciechowski, Kyriakides and Sinkevičius not to undermine “the environmental and social progress” the European Green Deal can help achieve.

The war in Europe serves as a reminder that the EU “must shift towards healthy, socially and environmentally friendly farming practices, such as agroecology, organic farming, and agroforestry, which provide the only path to ensuring long-term food security.”

Environmental organisations cited the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s report of February 2022 as it highlighted that “while agricultural development contributes to food security, unsustainable agricultural expansion, driven in part by unbalanced diets, increases ecosystem and human vulnerability and leads to competition for land and/or water resources”.

Research institute asks support for buyer countries
A day before this letter, the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) recalled that there was a need for “support for the most dependent buyer countries (…), not increased production”. The IDDRI’s scientific article focuses on the causes of rising commodity prices, the reality of the challenges to the physical availability of commodities, and possible solutions at European level. In this context, they identified the Farm to Fork Strategy as a response to these challenges and “should not be thrown out for unclear benefits”.

At the same time, the investigative media Lighthouse Reports also explained why the solutions pushed by the industry could “compromise future food security and puts animal feed over food”.

300 scientists call for food system transformation
On 19 March 2022, three hundred scientists teaching at leading universities, inside and outside the European Union, linked with institutions including Oxford University, INRAE, Berkeley University, Université Catholique de Louvain and Harvard University, signed an open letter denouncing “short-sighted suggestions like abandoning sustainable agricultural practices that form part of the EU’s Farm2Fork strategy”. These scientists urgently called for “a food system transformation” to ensure food security.

Commission Communication and Parliament resolution on food security
On 17 March, IFOAM Organics Europe also sent a letter to Members of the European Parliament in the context of the vote on a Parliament’s resolution on “food security”. With practical examples of farming practices such as crop rotations with legumes, this letter aimed to remind MEPs that “with support from the CAP and the Farm to Fork strategy, it is possible to produce healthy food in sufficient quantity without synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, while preserving biodiversity, storing carbon in soils and making our food production more resilient to the increasing impacts of climate change.”

On 23 March the Commission presented a Communication, and the following day the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on food security. The result of this pressure is that both institutions support adopting derogations for the year 2022 (in the current CAP) allowing farmers to grow crops on “Ecological Focus Areas” (land normally set aside to benefit biodiversity). Importantly, they also resisted calls to question the Farm to Fork strategy as the relevant policy direction. Nonetheless the Commission already postponed the publication of the proposals on Nature Restoration Targets, and on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulations, which were initially planned on 23 March, and are to include a target on pesticides reduction.

More specifically, the Commission Communication ‘Safeguarding food security and reinforcing the resilience of food systems’. considers that ‘food sustainability is fundamental for food security’. The Communication adds that ‘innovation through research, knowledge, technology, agro-ecology and adoption of best practices can mitigate pressure on input costs without hurting production capacity, leading to long-term progress in productivity to achieve the green transition’. Organic farming is shown as an example of a practice that uses limited amounts of mineral fertiliser and is less exposed to price increases. Moreover, the Commission supports the use of fertilisers in the short-term and ‘is also assessing options for new rules on new genomic techniques, which have the potential to create plant varieties that are less susceptible to changing temperatures and climatic threats, more resistant to plant pests and more efficient in the use of fertiliser’. The Commission will deliver a support package of 500 million euros to support most affected farmers.

The EP Resolution ‘Need for an urgent EU action plan to ensure food security inside & outside the EU in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine’ was voted by 413 MEPs in favour, 120 against and 49 abstentions on 24 March. IFOAM Organics Europe has issued a Press Release on this resolution here. IFOAM Organics Europe will remain vigilant on the attempts to undermine the Farm to Fork strategy and will continue to insist that the sustainability of our farming system is essential for long-term food security.

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