The EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategy launched this week by the EU Commission, marks an advance on what many Irish farmers are already doing, but also sets out a range of new targets to be achieved up to 2030, according to Mairead McGuinness.
At farm level, the plan sees less fertilisers, less pesticides and reduced use of antimicrobials, as well as a significant increase in the area of land under organic farming.
“Consumers are to be provided with more nutritional and sustainability information about the foods they buy, to address what the commission sees as poor dietary choices, with obesity on the increase, while over 30m Europeans don’t have access to quality food, and 20pc of food is wasted and thrown away the food supply chain has shown remarkable resilience during the corona virus pandemic with few reports of empty supermarket shelves, she said.
However she also went on to point out the environmental cost of the food chain saying , "European food is safe, plentiful, nutritious and of high quality. But this comes at an unacceptable cost, with the food chain as one of the key drivers of climate change and environmental degradation.”
She said the Farm to Fork strategy recognises that farmer incomes are around half that of the average worker in the economy as a whole.
“It sees an opportunity for farmers in improving their income position by meeting the demands of some consumers who have concerns around high environmental, health and ethical issues.”
A new market is proposed for carbon stored on farms, giving the possibility of a new income stream for farmers with high emitting industries willing to pay for carbon storage. Equally farmers with high emissions could be paying those with a positive carbon balance.
“These new initiatives are all part of the EU Green Deal, which targets climate neutrality by 2050. This target is important to address the climate and environment challenges. It means that all sectors, including agriculture will need to reduce emissions,” she said.
The MEP said the farm to fork strategy aims to achieve fairer economic returns in the food chain. “However, achieving that is going to need a forensic look at food pricing and how value added in the supply chain is distributed.”
She said the food processing and retail sectors are being asked to reduce their overall environmental footprint and to increase the availability and affordability of healthy, sustainable food options.
Other measures include significant investment for research and innovation in food, bio economy, natural resources, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and environment.
The MEP said the next phase is for the European Parliament and Council to respond to the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. “It is no longer the CAP that will shape EU agriculture, the farm to fork and biodiversity strategies will too,” she said.