Opinion Piece - by Jean-Pierre Fleury
Another week of debate on the Farm to Fork studies in Brussels ends with…the need for more studies!
Brussels, 27 January 2022 – This week, again, the European agricultural news has partly revolved around the question of the studies on the impact of the Farm to Fork strategy, whether it be the hearing with Julien Denormandie in the European Parliament or the official academic release of the two studies by the University of Wageningen, one of which, dedicated to the impacts on the livestock sector, was commissioned by the members of the European Livestock Voice.
However, the most significant event of the week was the debate organised in the European Parliament on Tuesday on the subject. If I had to pick one statement to summarise, out of the two-hour debate, I would keep the conclusion of the chairman of the agriculture committee, Norbert Lins, “The studies already on the table bring different points of view, which is useful, but we need an impact study(s) (ndlr. from the European Commission)”.
So we need more studies. Yes, that is undeniable. I agree with the many MEPs who have spoken in this direction. I would even add one comprehensive public European study. But this is not the direction that is currently being taken. The Commission, through its representative for agriculture, Commissioner Wojciechowski, already announced a few months ago – perhaps offhandedly – that there would not be an overall study on the impact of the targets proposed in the Green Deal, but a series of studies on the different objectives. However, one of the lessons from the Wageningen studies is that these different targets do have cumulative and combined effects. Impact studies on each of the legislative proposals will not give any insight into what will really happen tomorrow in our stables, in imported containers, on our farm financial accounts and the price people see on the shelf! On the other hand, it is difficult to hear from the Commission that conducting such a study won’t be feasible. If you can put policy targets of this magnitude, you should be able to assess their impact! It’s as simple as that.
I also noticed that the time needed for science does not necessarily line up with the time needed for communication or politics. A study would take more time, whereas we know that this year the Commission will already present 24 of the 28 legislative translations of the Farm to Fork communication. Without being a soothsayer, I can still predict that in a few months we will find ourselves in the same situation as last October, when the EU voted on the initial Farm to Fork communication; the Parliament and the Council will have to take a position, without having a global study that we have been calling for for over a year. Will the Parliament and Council react at this point or will they accept the same time pressures from the Commission?
In Tuesday’s debate, some Green MEPs also used the argument that these studies were funded by “lobbies”. This is a convenient argument for ignoring the studies, but it’s a bit short-sighted. On the one hand, you could read from this remark that the independence of scientists is called into question. But moreover, it simply or perhaps intentionally skips over the central question: why did we decide to ask for this study in the first place? Because there was no publication by the Commission or its research centre on its flagship policy! Political objectives had been set, without an explanation of the basis for them or consideration of the consequences. Should we then just sit back and wait?
Finally, I found this debate interesting for the blind spots it raises. Some MEPs have rightly pointed out that the question of changes in diet or the fight against food waste should be considered and that this had not been envisaged in studies such as the Wageningen study. This is a fact and work needs to be done, particularly by the Commission, in this respect. But, as a livestock farmer, I would be keen to see this argument applied to all the targets and initiatives that are being piled up in the Green Deal, whether it be the methane, soil, or biodiversity initiatives. Once again, as a farmer, I don’t need to be a mind reader to know that they will also have very significant impacts.
With my colleagues from the livestock sector, just like the MEPs on Tuesday, we are now waiting for the Commission’s concrete proposals. If we have been very vocal about the global objectives up till now, in the coming months we will be entering the core of this Farm to Fork discussion. We will have to talk (finally) about the solutions, the agronomic and technological options and the concrete measures to take. We are waiting for the beginning of what is, for me, a new Farm to Fork sequence. If we have disagreements and doubts about this target-based approach on one hand, we are nevertheless convinced that there are changes to be made in livestock farming and in agriculture more generally. We must play our part in these changes, and we will actively participate in these discussions and try to bring our answers, those from the field, to this key debate.
The Opinion Piece can be found here in FR.
European Livestock Voice
European Livestock Voice (www.meatthefacts.eu) is a multi-stakeholder group of like-minded EU partners united to bring back a balanced debate around a sector that is playing such an essential role in Europe’s rich heritage and future. The associations represent sectors ranging from animal health to feed, to breeding and animal farming and farmers; together they aim to inform the public about the social value of livestock production and its contribution to global challenges, offering another perspective in the ongoing debates.