The EU is looking to slash pesticide use and boost organic farming with its aptly titled "farm to fork" strategy.
The announcement comes with a slight delay, due to coronavirus, but the European Commission says the current crisis makes the policy all the more pressing.
"We believe that in this period in the world struggling with a pandemic we should also be thinking about how to increase our resilience, how to be able to translate the wish of people to look after their health, into concrete projects and plans," Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, told reporters.
"So, in that context, the biodiversity and the farm to fork strategies are a central element of the EU recovery plan."
The targets set in the "farm to fork" strategy include:
- 50% cut of pesticides by 2030
- 20% cut in fertilisers
- 50% reduction in sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture
- 25% increase in organic farming
The European Commission says this will contribute to an environmentally sustainable economy as envisaged in the European Green Deal.
In order to make the strategy become reality, the Commission suggests: "In addition to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) measures, such as eco-schemes, investments and advisory services, and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) measures, the Commission will put forward an Action Plan on organic farming."
It's an issue organic farmers have dealing with for years, and the old Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) was based on subsidies, that didn't necessarily benefit smaller, organic farms.
Tom Troonbeeckx created a community farm in Belgium more than a decade ago.
It has grown to serve 700 people who pay €330 per year to be able to harvest vegetables and collect meat and cereals from the cooperative near Leuven. Tom would prefer to have another way to make organic farming sustainable, other than receiving subsidies.
"I think we should reflect the true cost of producing the food in the price of the food and then organic will be much cheaper in comparison to other production than it is now and more people will opt for organic food," he said.
Although he admits that some subsidies are useful.
"We are in a very bad situation in terms of agriculture in general and maybe to focus on innovation and bringing in newcomers because we will need more people that want to be farmers," he added.
Traditional farming industry players reckon the new requirements from the EU could add extra pressure, at a time when they’re worried about the expected additional cuts to EU farming funds for 2021-2027.
The incoming recession has some worried about the rising costs to consumers, amid a stark economic downturn following the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is really important, especially for the European Parliament and also for the member states in the Council, to reflect what are expectations among consumers and citizens to pay more for the food in return for these additional requirements," explains Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General, COPA-COGECA (EU association of farmers and agri-cooperatives).
Pesonen also points to the fact that the economic impact of COVID-19 could see a significant decline in EU citizens' purchasing power.
The announcement shows that the European Commission appears keen to keep its Green Deal credentials alive, amid economic pressures brought about by coronavirus.