With much fanfare and after many years of consultation with a wide variety stakeholder across Europe, the European Commission (EC) published its Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F)[i] in May 2020, a 10-year plan aiming to make food systems ‘fair, healthy and environmentally friendly’. It marked a milestone in designing a set of systemic and holistic food policies, with the announcement of a Legislative Framework for Sustainable Food Systems[ii] (Sustainable Food Systems Law), to be adopted later in 2023.
Since the publication of the F2F strategy, rising fuel, feed and fertilizer costs and disruption in the supply of key globally traded commodities, have resulted in record food prices, and increasing levels of global food insecurity. It has highlighted the vulnerability of the EU food-system when confronted with global shocks – whether that is geopolitical instability, global pandemics, or climate change.
Over the last 12 months there has been a concerted attack by some stakeholders against the sustainable food policies outlined within the F2F strategy – the argument being that the strategy puts food security at risk. Some farming groups, politicians, food businesses and agri-food groups now advocate that the F2F strategy and the legislative initiatives under it, need to be reviewed given increasing geopolitical instability, with a greater emphasis on increasing agricultural production and productivity to ‘feed the EU and the world’ – with a need to water down some of the greening measures.
In a new briefing I wrote on behalf of the WWF European Policy Office, entitled ‘Farm to Fork: Systemic Change is key to European Food Security and Resilience‘, I argue that short term measures to return to ‘business as usual’ will have a negative impact on European food security in the long term. Rolling back the F2F strategy to scale up intensive systems of food production would not solve the current food crisis – It would move us even further away from a food system that is resilient to future shocks. The F2F strategy offers a unique opportunity to promote joined up policies that result in synergies for food security, production, sustainability, and health – it must not be weakened or abandoned.
In summary, the briefing paper highlights that:
- Food insecurity is a consequence of an unsustainable food system that threatens long-term food production. A shift to healthy and sustainable diets, combined with agroecological farming practices, is key to providing long term food security for both European and global citizens.
- In a world that will inevitably face additional shocks in the form of environmental crises (climate change and biodiversity loss), we need policies oriented towards re-localising and democratising our food systems, building on traditional and ecological knowledge that supports resilience.
- Food insecurity is not caused by a shortage of food supply -it is caused by unequal distribution. There is more than enough food to enable the world to feed itself – however, food that could be used for human consumption is fed to animals, used as biofuels, or wasted rather than feeding hungry people. This is an inefficient use of limited land resources.
- Today the EU is a major exporter, in value terms, of high value commodities that are not part and parcel of global food security and is a net importer of calories and proteins.
- Shifting towards a food system in which arable crops are prioritised for human nutrition – and livestock numbers are accordingly reduced – offers significant potential to reduce pressure on Europe’s land area – potentially saving up to 70.7 million hectares of agricultural land[iii] whilst reducing imports, and reducing pressure on land overseas, of imported animal feeds such as soya.
- Europe can significantly improve food security and resilience outcomes by supporting a transition to organic and agroecological agriculture – This would reduce fertilizer imports, maximise the use of locally grown resources (leguminous crops) and improve climate and biodiversity outcomes.
- As European governments continue to mitigate the effects of price rises and market volatility, they must commit to taking measures that build longer-term resilience to future global shocks, based on an agroecological transition for healthy and sustainable diets.
- The EU must continue to support and strengthen the F2F strategy. The legislative framework forsustainable food systems should establish a 2050 vision for sustainable food systems to provide a clear direction and ensure coherence among food related policies. This must include ambitious provisions able to set a clear and common direction, possibly including intermediate and final binding targets that apply to the entire food system, from production to consumption, as well as a comprehensive evaluation mechanism to monitor progress.
[ii] EC. 2023. Legislative framework for sustainable food systems https://food.ec.europa.eu/horizontal-topics/farm-fork-strategy/legislative-framework_en
[iii] Sun, Z., Scherer, L., Zhang, Q. et al. 2022. Adoption of plant-based diets across Europe can improve food resilience against the Russia–Ukraine conflict. https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00634-4