The EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy has been met with a sceptical response from Ireland’s farm organisations following its publication and launch in Brussels today, Wednesday, May 20.
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) and Macra na Feirme have all criticised the strategy, deeming it to be “unrealistic” and “heavy on restriction but light on support”.
Commenting, IFA president Tim Cullinan said that many aspects of both the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies are unrealistic and will make European farming uncompetitive, adding:
There needs to be a comprehensive economic impact assessment of these proposals by the EU and separately by the Irish Government and Minister Creed.
“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.
“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.
The president said the absence of any commitment on increased funding for farmers shows how deeply flawed this proposal is.
Saddling farmers with extra costs without any increase in CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] funding through the MFF [Multi-annual Financial Framework] is a complete contradiction to the policy of sustaining farm incomes.
“The EU wants ever-increasing standards imposed on European farmers – but will do trade deals to import food from other countries which have much lower standards and do not meet EU rules,” he said.
“These EU strategies could be counterproductive as they will drive European farmers out of business, leaving the EU dependent on these imports and threatening food security,” he said.
“A fundamental question needs to be asked about what input the EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and DG Agri had in drafting them.
The agriculture commissioner wasn’t even included in the press conference today.
However, Cullinan noted that: “One positive is an acknowledgement that farmers deserve credit for carbon they are already storing and sequestering on their farms.
“Farmers do this through their grassland, crops and hedges which also contribute hugely to biodiversity,” he said.
“While there is far too much focus in the documents on ‘plant-based diets’, the review of how the EU can use its promotion programme to support the most sustainable, carbon-efficient methods of livestock production is something that should favour our grass-based system if it’s assessed fairly,” he added.
Meanwhile, ICMSA president Pat McCormack said that his initial response was that there is much in Farm to Fork that is interesting and credible, and the document would get the scrutiny it deserves.
However, he felt that there is “a degree of punches being pulled” on the question of the reforms and changes required at retail level.
McCormack said that the language and tone around the fundamental changes required at retail level is unconvincing and farmers would not be reassured by promised “codes of conduct” that do not have powerful legislative force and real sanctions underpinning them.
The most serious problem is the most obvious one: When this strategy mentions ‘sustainability’ does that include the sustainability of the farmers and primary food producers?
“Or does it just means theoretic sustainability – because if it’s that then the very first step is wrong and every step after that takes us further away from a solution,” McCormack warned.
Macra na Feirme said it rejects the Farm to Fork Strategy, stating that it fails to put farmers at the core of the strategy.
Macra na Feirme national president Thomas Duffy said:
Farmers are seen as an obstacle in this strategy and not as important stakeholders that are addressing the challenges in the food chain and of environmental protection.
Agriculture affairs chairman John Keane added:
“Young farmers are only mentioned once in the entire document; the challenge of generational renewal was totally ignored – meaning none of these aims will be achievable.”
Macra na Feirme believes the strategy is short sighted with the blanket reductions of 20% in fertiliser and 50% in plant protection products that do not consider farm viability.
The strategy has set targets without conducting impact assessments while ignoring input from farm groups, which seems like a backward approach.
“Strategies of this scale must put farmers at their core – not as an afterthought,” the president concluded.
ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the EU Commission’s launch of its Farm to Fork strategy “would not succeed unless it charted a way to deliver a fair price to the primary producer”.
“The EU cannot continuously expect the farmer to do more for less, to produce more with less, and then to compete on an uneven playing field,” the president added.
It simply will not work if we have ever higher standards in Europe and then undermine our farmers with more and more imports from outside the European Union from countries where such standards are not upheld.
“In reality, we have to have a fundamental re-think about whether the high ideals of the Farm to Fork strategy are compatible with importing 300,000 tons of beef into the EU.”
In addition, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) pesticide industry spokesperson Geralding Kutas said:
“We would welcome realistic targets reflecting the results of an impact assessment.
A reduction rate of 50% by 2030 is not realistic and will not have the desired effect of having a more sustainable food production model in Europe. Let’s be clear – we are not against targets.
“The objectives presented today should be taking the farming industry on a journey to transform, not without sacrifices, but in collaboration with all parties involved in producing our food,” Kutas concluded.