The EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy “must mean a reversal of the traditional EU approach” of prioritising cheap food at retail level, according to the president of one of the country’s leading farm organisations.

Writing in the June newsletter of the European Milk Board (EMB), Pat McCormack, the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), said that the strategy “represents a last chance to rebalance the food supply chain…to preserve what’s left of the EU’s family farm system”.

“The challenges facing farming are almost beyond comprehension. More food has to be produced for a growing population but on an increasingly sustainable basis, which means that traditional ways of increasing supply have to be curtailed or discarded,” said McCormack, who is a member of the EMB executive committee.

Farmers accept both the scientific reality and the scale of the challenge that has to be met. I am adamant that it is the starting point that is chosen by the EU that will ultimately determine whether or not its Farm to Fork Strategy is successful.

“This must mean a reversal of the traditional EU approach whereby the delivery of cheap food at retail level is deemed the most important element with everything else positioned to serve that,” the farm leader argued.

According to McCormack, it is this system that contributes to high levels of food waste.

“[We] have long argued that, instead of constructing the system backwards from a position that prioritised retail of high-standard food at cheap prices, the system should start with the sustainability of both the food and the farming communities who produce it.

Reforming our present broken food supply system is like reforming any other seemingly intractable problem: The first step is the vital one. If that first step is wrong, then every step after it brings you further away from the solution.

“The absolutely fundamental question here…is whether the EU’s first step is going to be towards a solution or continuing on the present path that brought us to this cliff edge,” the ICMSA president argued.

McCormack added: “The solution has to start with societies and corporations paying the real price of what they consume. The ‘cheap food’ policy advocated and implemented by the retail corporations and endorsed by politicians has undermined environmental sustainability and utterly destroyed the economic viability of farming communities.

“But if…we are told that the strategy is going to start from a position that doesn’t see, or want, changes at consumer or retail level, then we’ll know that everyone has wasted their time…farmers will not accept a strategy that simply imposes further restrictions on them alone,” he insisted.

“The strategy must ensure a proper price for sustainable food, and the use of third-country imports to undermine sustainable food production must be stopped as part of that strategy,” McCormack concluded.