The European Commission said on Wednesday it planned to increase organic farming and cut agricultural chemical use to protect the environment, proposals welcomed by green groups but which farmers said would make them less flexible.
Agriculture is a contributor to climate change – producing around 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions – and is at the forefront of its consequences, with European farmers battling more intense droughts and flooding.
The EU Commission, the bloc’s executive, proposed goals to restore natural ecosystems and steer agriculture towards its EU-wide target to reduce net emissions to zero by 2050.
“If the corona-crisis has taught us anything, it is that we have to recalibrate our relationship with the natural environment, we have to become more resilient,” EU climate chief Frans Timmermans said, referring to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has raised questions about the relationship between human activity and nature.
The Commission wants the EU's share of organic farming to reach 25% in 2030, up from 8% today, while 10% of agricultural land must comprise "high diversity" landscapes, such as ponds and hedges.
Other targets would cut chemical pesticide use by 50% and fertiliser use by 20% by 2030.
The targets are not yet legally binding. Draft laws will follow and will need approval from the 27 member states and the European Parliament.
Farming groups said organic farming typically produces smaller yields and ring-fencing land for natural habitats would limit farmers' ability to respond to increases in demand.
The Commission said the proposals would not compromise Europe's food security, and the pandemic could prompt consumers to choose local, sustainable foods - even as the bloc faces a steep economic recession.
"There will be shortened supply lines, there will be more produced in Europe," Timmermans said.
The measures aim to align agriculture with the Commission's target to reduce net EU emissions to zero by 2050.
Agriculture produces around 10% of EU greenhouse gas emissions, of which 70% are from animal farming.
An earlier draft had pledged to "stop stimulating production or consumption of meat," but the proposal was removed.
IFA President Tim Cullinan said that many aspects of the EU’s ‘ Farm to Fork’ and ‘Biodiversity’ strategies published today by the EU Commission are unrealistic and will make European farming uncompetitive.
“There needs to be a comprehensive economic impact assessment of these proposals by the EU and separately by the Irish Government and Minister Creed. He should ask Teagasc to begin this immediately,” he said.
“The EU Commission is rightly having urgent meetings about stimulating economic recovery after COVID-19, yet these aspirations could make EU farmers uncompetitive and put them out of business. This could decimate economic activity in rural areas in particular,” he said.
“It is not credible for the EU to drive up production costs for European farmers while at the same time looking for low food prices. They want food produced to organic standards, but available at conventional prices,” he said.