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What is the Farm to Fork Strategy?

In this article, we explore the EU's Farm to Fork Strategy, its aims to transform food sustainability, and the challenges it faces amidst recent farmer protests.
Ecology News
2024-02-08T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
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The Farm to Fork Strategy, a central component of the European Green Deal, signifies a significant shift in the EU's approach to food sustainability. Adopted in May 2020, it aims to revolutionize food production, distribution, and consumption to address environmental and public health concerns. 

However, its future is increasingly uncertain, clouded by recent widespread protests from EU farmers. These protests stem from concerns over rising production costs and the impact of stringent climate policies on farming livelihoods. This tension highlights the challenge of aligning sustainable agricultural practices with economic viability, casting doubt on the full realization of the Farm to Fork Strategy's ambitious goals.

👉 In this article, we explore the EU's Farm to Fork Strategy, its aims to transform food sustainability, and the challenges it faces amidst recent farmer protests.

Farm to fork meaning

Farm to fork is a concept that encompasses the various stages of food production and consumption, emphasizing a more direct connection between the production of food on farms and its consumption on our plates. The central idea is to minimize the distance and processes that food undergoes between its origin in the fields to the final consumer. This philosophy stresses the importance of sourcing food locally, reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation, and often involves a commitment to sustainable and organic farming practices. It also highlights the value of fresh, unprocessed, and nutrient-rich foods, contributing to healthier eating habits.

This approach benefits both consumers and producers. Consumers gain access to fresher, more nutritious, and often tastier food options, while also developing a greater awareness of where their food comes from and the environmental impact of their food choices. On the other hand, local farmers and producers receive more direct financial support from their communities, encouraging the survival and growth of small-scale, sustainable agriculture. 

👉 Learn more about the impact of the food industry and food waste on the environment, in our blog

The farm-to-fork movement is more than just a method of food production and distribution - it is a holistic approach to food consumption that encourages a deeper connection between people, their food, and the environment. 
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The carbon footprint of our food

The link between what we eat and carbon emissions is significant, with the global food system being a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the food sector is responsible for approximately 26% of global GHG emissions. This is mainly due to methane production from cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide from overused agricultural soils, and carbon dioxide from the conversion of forests into agricultural land.

💡 Did you know? A considerable portion of food sector emissions comes from livestock production, which alone accounts for about 14.5% of the world's total greenhouse gases.

The link between our diet and carbon emissions is further highlighted in the context of the farm-to-fork movement, which emphasizes eating locally and seasonally. Local and seasonal eating significantly reduces the carbon footprint associated with food transportation and storage. Food that is transported over long distances contributes to higher GHG emissions due to the fuel burned in the process of transportation. For example, importing food via air freight can emit around 50 times as much CO2 as transporting the same amount of food by sea. Additionally, eating seasonally reduces the need for energy-intensive storage facilities and greenhouses, which are often required to grow out-of-season produce.

By choosing local and seasonal foods, consumers support a more sustainable food system. This approach minimizes the distance food travels, leading to lower carbon emissions, and also supports local agriculture, creating a closer connection between consumers and their food sources. This practice aligns with the farm-to-fork philosophy, which advocates for a deeper understanding and respect for the food production process and its environmental impacts.
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What is the EU Farm to Fork Strategy?

The Farm to Fork Strategy is a central component of the European Green Deal, aiming to transform the European Union's food system to make it more sustainable. The strategy which was adopted in May 2020, seeks to redesign the entire food value chain to improve sustainability at each step, from production through to consumption. 

It aims to create a food system with a neutral or positive environmental impact, helping to mitigate climate change, reversing biodiversity loss, ensuring food security and public health, and maintaining the affordability of food while also providing fair economic returns for producers. 

The strategy includes both regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives, leveraging a variety of agricultural and fisheries policies to support the transition. A legislative framework for sustainable food systems is also being developed to support the implementation of this strategy.

👉 Learn more about the EU’s ambitions to cut emissions and transition to net zero in our article.

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Farm to Fork Strategy objective

The Farm to Fork Strategy includes several key components, each addressing a different aspect of the food system:

Sustainable food production - This part of the strategy focuses on implementing sustainable agricultural practices and technologies. It aims to minimize the environmental impact of farming, improve the efficiency of resource use, and enhance biodiversity. 

The impact on farmers is significant, as they are encouraged to adopt more sustainable practices, which might initially require changes in farming techniques but offer long-term benefits including better soil health, reduced input costs, and potential for higher quality produce.

Food processing and distribution - Here, the strategy emphasizes reducing the carbon footprint associated with food processing and distribution. This includes innovations in energy-efficient processing techniques, waste management, and sustainable packaging solutions. The goal is to minimize environmental impact throughout the supply chain while maintaining food quality and safety.

Sustainable food consumption - This pillar of the strategy promotes dietary shifts towards healthier and more sustainable food choices. It involves encouraging consumer behavior that favors low-impact, nutritious foods, which can lead to both improved public health and reduced environmental degradation. Education and awareness campaigns play a crucial role in this aspect.

Food loss and waste reduction - The strategy also targets the reduction of food loss and waste at all levels - production, retail, and consumption. Measures include improving food storage, processing, and distribution practices to extend shelf life, as well as consumer education to reduce waste at home. This not only conserves resources but also addresses food insecurity by redirecting food that would otherwise be wasted.

Under the umbrella of these overarching aims, the EU has set specific targets to be achieved within its framework. These include a 50% reduction in the use and risk of pesticides, a 20% reduction in the use of fertilizers – including animal manure, and a 50% reduction in sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture. Furthermore, it aims to increase the proportion of agricultural land under organic farming to 25%, up from the current level of 8%. Another significant goal is to implement a mandatory harmonized EU Front of Pack Labelling (FOPL) within two years, to facilitate informed choices for consumers. These targets reflect the strategy's comprehensive approach to reshaping the food system in a sustainable way.

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Farm to fork - where does the strategy stand now?

The Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU Green Deal have led to a number of policy updates and the introduction of new rules and regulations. These initiatives are at different stages of implementation, ranging from proposals and directives being discussed or awaiting publication, to regulations that have been enacted or are set to become effective in the near future.

Regulations and policies that fall either entirely, or partly, under the banner of the Farm to Fork Strategy include: 

Sustainable Food Systems Framework Legislation - This initiative aims to harmonize sustainability standards for all EU food products, including imports. It involves developing new legal frameworks, defining sustainability, setting labeling requirements, and establishing sustainable public procurement criteria. The planned publication of the proposal for the Sustainable Food Systems framework, initially scheduled for the second half of 2023, was delayed. The initiative was also not included in the Commission's work program for 2024. As a result, the timeline for this proposal remains uncertain.

Sustainability Labelling Framework - Designed to establish guidelines on communicating the sustainability aspects of food products to consumers. This framework is expected to be a component of the broader Sustainable Food Systems framework, which has experienced a delay in its finalization and release.

Revision of EU Marketing Standards - The revision of EU Marketing Standards is aimed at enhancing sustainability and minimizing food waste across various products. In November 2023, updated standards were introduced for fruits, vegetables, and eggs. However, for products like honey, fruit juices, jams, olive oil, hops, and poultry, the relevant proposed regulations are still in the process of being finalized and officially published.

Origin Indication Labelling - The initiative for origin indication labeling aims to expand mandatory origin labeling to more food products. This proposal, initially expected to be part of a wider review of food information for consumers in the latter half of 2023, is still under development. 

Nutrient Profiles and Nutrition Labelling - This initiative focuses on nutrient profiles and nutrition labeling, it aims to enhance the quality of nutritional information available to consumers. This proposal, which was part of a broad review of consumer food information, was expected in the second half of 2023. However, the Commission has recently indicated that work on this initiative is still in progress.

Animal Welfare Legislation Revision - The revision of the Animal Welfare Legislation is aimed at updating EU regulations to reflect the latest scientific findings and elevate animal welfare standards. On December 7, 2023, a proposal concerning the protection of animals during transportation was released. This proposal is set to undergo discussions in the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. Meanwhile, the Commission is advancing its preparatory efforts on additional animal welfare proposals.

Revision of Feed Additives Regulation - The initiative is centered on advocating for feed additives that positively impact animal welfare and the environment. The implementation of this initiative is expected to be postponed until 2025.

Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation - The plan outlines the EU's approach to reducing chemical pesticide usage, with a target of halving pesticide use by 2030. The initial proposal by the EU Commission faced rejection from the European Parliament in November 2023. EU Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on February 6th that the regulation is being withdrawn following opposition, led by the agro-chemical industry, stating that “to move forward, more dialogue and a different approach is needed”. 

Pesticides with Biological Active Substances - This initiative streamlines the process for approving microorganisms as active agents in plant protection, a significant step in enhancing natural pest control methods. It was implemented starting in September 2022.

Proposal on New Genomic Techniques - Discussions are ongoing regarding the Commission's proposal within the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

Regulation on Plastic Materials for Food Contact - This regulation establishes safety standards for recycled plastics used in direct contact with food, and it has been in effect since October 2022.

Packaging Review - The goal is to minimize the environmental impact of packaging and enhance recycling efforts. The Commission's proposal on reducing packaging waste is currently under deliberation in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The implementation of these new regulations is anticipated by 2026.

Policy Framework for Alternative Plastics - The policy framework (EU policy framework on bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics) presents the European Union's strategy for adopting alternative plastics, aiming to address the issue of plastic pollution. This framework was made public in November 2022.

Regulation on Deforestation-Associated Commodities - The objective is to ensure that specific products in the EU market are not linked to deforestation. This measure is set to become effective in December 2024.

Green Claims Directive - This initiative is focused on creating standardized criteria for environmental claims, aiming to curb greenwashing. The European Parliament and the Council of the EU are expected to continue discussions into 2025. Following its adoption, EU member states will have two years to incorporate the directive into their national legislation.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) - The updated directive revises sustainability reporting guidelines for both large corporations and SMEs. It became effective in January 2023, and companies are expected to start adhering to the new rules in 2024. 👉 To learn more about the CSRD head over to our blog. 

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDD) - This directive mandates that companies assess and address their negative impacts on human rights and the environment. The expectation is for this directive to be published in the first quarter of 2024, with its application beginning in 2026. 👉 To learn more about this directive check out our article on the CSDD. 

Trouble for the Farm to Fork Strategy? EU farmers protests

Recent protests by farmers across the European Union have highlighted significant concerns related to the Farm to Fork Strategy. These demonstrations, which have taken place in various EU countries, stem from issues such as rising production costs, shrinking profit margins, and the perceived impact of climate policies on farming livelihoods. 

The protests bring into focus the challenges in balancing sustainable agricultural practices, as advocated by the Farm to Fork Strategy, with the economic realities faced by farmers. This tension is already influencing the direction and implementation of Farm to Fork policies and regulations, with the Commission dropping the proposed pesticide regulation and the associated target of halving pesticide use by 2023. Governments and EU bodies must walk a fine line between addressing the grievances of the agricultural sector while maintaining their commitment to sustainability goals - no small task.

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What about Greenly?

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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