The farm to fork strategy is the future of the EU food system


Since war broke out in Ukraine, industry lobbies and conservative policymakers have used it to try to roll back Europe’s farm-to-fork strategy. The European Food Policy Coalition, of which Slow Food is an active member, reacted in an open letter to the European Commission. Our message? The strategy is the only way to safeguard Europe’s natural environment and the health of its citizens. We must defend it and implement it!

Last week, 90 civil society organisations, including Slow Food Europe, wrote an open letter calling on European leaders to speed up the implementation of the European Farm to Fork response to industry lobbies and attempts by conservative policymakers to delay any policy for sustainable agriculture, using the war in Ukraine as an excuse.

It is undeniable that this tragic situation unfolding in Ukraine has direct effects on global food production and trade. The dependence of countries in North Africa and the Middle East on imports threatens their food security, which in turn increases the risk of social unrest and conflict. In Europe, a spike in food prices is likely to affect the most vulnerable – farmers and consumers – who are already struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But we cannot allow human disasters to be instrumentalized to undermine European environmental and social progressembodied in part by the EU’s Green Deal and its biodiversity and farm to fork strategies.


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Attacks on the farm-to-fork strategy are not new (read our article). Corporate lobbies have painted doomsday scenarios for the future of EU agriculture and used fear to promote their private interests since the European Commission announced its plans to transition to sustainable food systems. This time, they argue that the Ukrainian crisis leaves Europe no choice but to increase food production by getting rid of environmental constraints in agriculture, otherwise Europeans would go hungry. As observed by Birdlife, “Everything from pesticide and fertilizer reduction targets to the upcoming EU nature restoration law is now under fire for criticism due to ‘food safety'”.

At first glance, their argument seems logical. The war in Ukraine is disrupting food supply chains and disrupting imports of agricultural products. Europe must therefore produce more to compensate. But like underline by Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, The reality is much more complex“Please don’t believe in the illusion that you are helping food production by making it less sustainable. The EU from farm to fork is part of the answer, not part of the problem. »

A rise in food prices in the short term

Food prices are risingfor two main reasons which have been clearly developed by the French think-tank IDDRI: the blocking of Black Sea exports and the fear of a shortage leading to new speculation. “This follows a steady rise in grain prices over the past six months, driven by the rising cost of gas and, in turn, nitrogen fertilizers (the price of which has more than tripled since January 2021). The conflict thus exacerbates a trend that had already influenced fertilizer purchasing strategies and ongoing plantations.. As a result, wheat prices on the futures markets are breaking records, at more than €400/tonne (as of March 8), above the prices reached during the 2007 food crisis,” comments the think tank.

Yet the impact on European food markets is mainly felt by the European livestock system, which is increasingly dependent on imported food. “These farms absorb 60% of the cereals and nearly 70% of the oilseeds consumed in Europe in the form of concentrates, a large part of which is imported from world markets”.

What’s at stake

So what do these facts tell us about the EU food system? They state loud and clear that it is very vulnerable to any crisis (COVID-19 had already opened this curtain) and supports an intensive and polluting livestock system which in turn depends heavily on the import of biofuels to produce fertilizers . What the opponents of farm to fork really want is to keep the current lucrative agricultural model that harms the environment, poisons human health and undermines the food autonomy and dignity of small farmers. “What is at stake, at least in the short term, is not Europe’s “food sovereignty” […] Rather, it is Europe’s ability to sustain an intensive livestock industry competitive in the face of international competition and capable of supplying consumers with animal products at a lower cost”, analyzes IDDRI.

But a modern, industrialized agribusiness model providing low-cost meat and dairy products is simply not sustainable.. It may have been beneficial in terms of increased productivity, but its impact on the environment has been devastating: pollution, soil erosion, scarred landscapes, reduced energy resources and an overall loss of diversity, both biological and cultural. In addition, there is clearly an urgent need to move away from a model that relies so heavily on the use of petroleum or petroleum-derived inputs (fertilizers and pesticides, fuel for agricultural machinery).

The real threat to EU food security is environmental

It should be remembered that food security is mainly threatened due to climate change. More recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Underline that “climate change will put increasing pressure on food production and access, especially in vulnerable regions, compromising food security and nutrition”. Indeed, they remind us that global warming poses a serious threat to soil health and ecosystem services such as pollination “undermining food productivity in many land and ocean regions.” It also concludes with great confidence that agroecological practices and principles support food security.

If our soils are depleting, if plant and animal species are disappearing and if we are driving our entire ecosystem to extinction, how can we ensure food security? This is where the European Farm to Fork Strategy comes in, because it is a policy guided by a long-term vision. As stated in our open letter to EU leaders, rather than ramping up production, Europe must help farmers to undertake an agro-ecological transition, in particular by guaranteeing them and agricultural workers a fair income. In particular, we must support small agroecological producers as they are essential to ensure food sovereignty and protect food biodiversity.

The organizations call for policies that “on the one hand promote a reduction in the production of factory-farmed animals towards extensive practices on a small scale and respectful of animal welfare, through a just transition respectful of the right of farmers to a fair income and, on the other hand, promote healthier, plant-based diets.”

This much-needed transformation can only happen if the EU implements the European Farm to Fork Strategy, to preserve its natural environment and the health of its citizens.

Global food systems will continue to be plagued by crises and uncertainties in the years and decades to come. By acting responsibly now, we will ensure that Europe is well placed to deal with any future crises.


We call on the global Slow Food family to support Ukraine by:

  • Support those who stayed to protect their lands

  • Create twinning opportunities between Ukraine and the EU

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