2021.09.15

"It has been a long and bumpy road"

2021.09.15

The EU Farm to Fork strategy – what is happening?

Here we share the latest on the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F). The European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and its Environmental Committee have agreed and both committees claim to be satisfied.

Text: Gun Rudquist, Photo: Ihar Leichonak/Mostphotos

F2F was initiated by the European Green Deal and is seen by many as the Deal’s flagship agri-food element. In February 2020, the Commission presented the roadmap for F2F and an open consultation gave the EU citizens a chance to comment. In May 2020, the Commission delivered its Communication with further suggested details on the content of the strategy. 

From a eutrophication perspective, the strategy held promising elements by promoting more sustainable nutrient management practices. F2F sets targets for reducing nutrient losses by at least 50 % and reducing the use of nutrients by 20 % by 2030. To achieve these goals, the strategy suggests a number of actions. These actions include implementing and enforcing the relevant environmental and climate legislation in full, identifying together with Member States the nutrient load reductions needed to achieve these goals, applying balanced fertilisation and sustainable nutrient management, and managing nitrogen and phosphorus better throughout their lifecycle. An integrated nutrient management action plan was stressed as a key tool, along with better on-farm practices for handling fertilisers. 

Many actors welcomed the strategy, including us, the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre, but also highlighted its weaknesses. Our comments stressed the need to address the problem of high livestock densities in certain regions in order to increase nutrient use efficiency.

From then on, the debate has been intense. Many attempts have been made to water-down the F2F strategy. Eleven member states jointly presented a declaration asking for no binding targets. The farming industry has joined in the choir. 

Last week the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and Environment Committee, who have a joint responsibility for F2F, voted on the strategy. It has been a long and bumpy road. The committees have negotiated and voted on around 2000 amendments and claim to have found an acceptable compromise.

The vote resulted in passing a report with 48 compromise amendments. The press release from the Committees states, for instance, that binding reduction targets for pesticide use are needed. Member states should implement such targets in the reviews of their CAP Strategic Plans. The importance of organic farming for EU’s path towards more sustainable food systems was also highlighted. 

The press release didn’t mention the suggested reduction targets for nutrient losses, but according to the voting report, it seems as if the targets survived the vote. Based on the agreed amendments, the Committees welcome the Commission’s commitment to act to reduce the nutrient losses and stress that both legally binding legislative initiatives as well as measures aimed at enabling farmers to improve nutrient management are needed. 

From a Baltic Sea perspective, we welcome the Committees’ report, which has stronger wording than the strategy on fishery and aquaculture. The accepted long amendment is somewhat of a wish list that covers anything from ecosystem-based approach and restoring coastal ecosystems to the need to fully respect marine protected areas. It remains to be seen if this will turn into hands-on measures. 

After campaigning for MEPs to back the report, NGOs widely celebrated the news as a win and many farm organisations seemed happy.

The next step in the F2F saga will be the EP voting in plenum on the Committees’ report, probably in October. Let’s hope that both the nutrient reduction targets and the high flying aims for the fisheries and aquaculture sector also survive this battle.