Farmers and the “Farm to Fork” Strategy

In which areas do farmers lack concrete solutions to start adapting and investing in the F2F Strategy?

I can easily imagine why people would want to put me in the category of the sceptics as regards the Farm to Fork Strategy project. My double hat as a farmer and member of the Agriculture Committee would make me the perfect “culprit”.

As I have been given the opportunity to address the topic, I would like to set the record straight: I can only welcome the fact that Europe is concerned – in the final analysis – with the link between what happens in the farmyards and what we find on our plates every day.

Revaluating agriculture, and the women and men who keep it alive, as well as reviving its demography can only be achieved through a process that reminds everyone where our food comes from.

With regard to the very ambitious proposals that the European Commission’s communication put on the table last May, I would like to stress the need for farmers be fully involved at all stages of this global reflection on food sustainability. No concrete and convincing results can be achieved if we try to build a castle with no foundations. In this sense, I would like to see a change in the dynamics by making farmers partners, and no longer public enemy number one. “Agribashing” serves only one cause: destroying our own agriculture for the benefit of a few global players who will happily feed the 500 million Europeans with products well below the quality and traceability standards of our own products. To be able to move forward, we must first recognise and value the steps already taken, then ask ourselves what the remaining obstacles are.

Among the announced offshoots of the Farm to Fork Strategy, some seem promising and close to existing practices. I am thinking, for example, of the fight against food waste, the development of nutritional labelling or labelling of the origin of products, or the fight against antibiotic resistance.

These actions, already been undertaken by a number of professionals, deserve, on the one hand, to be promoted and, on the other, deepened and extended to all European countries.

Among the stated and highly publicised objectives, there is of course a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides by 2030 and the conversion of 25% of the total European agricultural area to organic farming. I have absolutely nothing against it, but I would like to warn about the feasibility of such ambitions, which is the political question to be resolved. Contrary to what some would like to believe, farmers do not treat their land out of pleasure but out of necessity: to protect their crops from pests for which there are unfortunately not enough alternative treatments available today. It was the case with sugar beets in France, where we had to go backpedal to save the production heavily affected by yellowing. So, the way out of pesticides, if gradual, must go hand in hand with reinforced means and a greater focus on alternative processes as well as take into account the reduction of the risks linked to the use of pesticides and not only the quantities used.

As for organic farming, we should try to think beyond the numbers and favour a slightly less binary and less dogmatic reflection on the subject.

A number of virtuous farms, that do not use any input, do not have the “organic” label, for a variety of reasons. Conversely, major disparities in quality levels between so-called “organic” farms still exist today in Europe. The Farm to Fork Strategy must therefore be, in my opinion, an opportunity to refine the issue and purpose of “organic”. By first supporting, beyond – if not before – the conversion of the farms, the structuring of the sectors and the added value. Bearing in mind that the target of 25% organic should not be achieved at the expense of three quarters of our production, which must also be supported. I am wary of two-tier strategies.

I shall conclude by saying that the Farm to Fork Strategy will have a bright future ahead of it and benefit farmers and consumers alike, if we take the time and have the courage to deepen it and work with all the stakeholders in the farm-to-table chain.