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4th Dec 2021

MEPs back EU food reform, despite strong lobbying

  • MEPs call for binding pesticide-reduction targets, and a ban on the export of pesticides which are already illegal in the EU (Photo: Jan Fidler)
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MEPs have backed the EU's Farm to Fork strategy for sustainable food systems, despite considerable efforts by agri-food lobbyists to delay and weaken the proposal.

The European Parliament is calling for binding pesticide-reduction targets, a ban on the export of pesticides already illegal in the EU and the phase-out of caged-farming by 2027.

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  • MEPs from the European People's Party accused Frans Timmermans (photoshopped, left) of refusing to publish a study on the impact of new farming rules (Photo: EPP Twitter)

EU lawmakers also support provisions setting limits on sugars, fats and salt in processed food, and allowing EU member states to exempt healthy food from certain taxes.

The report, approved by MEPs on Tuesday (19 October), also calls for mandatory and harmonised EU front-of-pack nutritional label for foods aimed at informing consumers of the nutritional qualities of products, their origin, the sustainability and production methods used, and animal welfare implications.

The resolution was adopted with 452 votes in favour, 170 against and 76 abstentions.

MEPs voted down changes introduced at the last minute as a result of an intense lobbying battle led by the EU's main agricultural lobby group and aimed at watering down the parliament's position – except for one amendment tabled by Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann from the European People's Party (EPP).

This amendment calls on the European Commission to carry out impact assessments on any legislative proposal under the Farm to Fork – a standard procedure in EU policy-making.

The Farm to Fork strategy is seen as an opportunity to trigger a shift towards more sustainable food production in the EU, especially since many consider that the existing Common Agriculture Policy is not aligned with the Green Deal and EU's climate targets.

"If we do not take action now to halt the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity, this will undoubtedly lead to higher food prices and less food security worldwide," said lead MEP Anja Hazekamp, calling on EU institutions to resist pressure from corporate interests.

"The multinationals … won't profit from a change to a toxic-free, resilient form of agriculture. But the farmers, the ecosystems and the consumers will benefit from this transition," she added.

The lobbying campaign, led by EU farmers' association Copa-Cogeca, has been largely based on the findings of a series of "impact studies", some of which themselves were funded by industry players such as Brussels-based CropLife Europe.

However, civil society NGOs slammed that effort as a "massive disinformation campaign".

Timmermans' 'secret'?

However, some members of the EPP have been echoing the arguments made by the agri-food lobbying, in particular raising concerns about new rules potentially leading to less food being produced in Europe, or making the bloc dependent on food imports from outside the EU.

Additionally, they have accused EU commissioner in charge of the Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, of refusing to publish a study on the impact of new farming rules carried out by the internal research centre of the commission.

The EPP claims that the study from the Joint Research Centre was finalised in January but only released in August.

"It is scandalous that commission vice-president Timmermans has tried to keep the study on the consequences of its Farm to Fork Strategy a secret just because the results were not what he wanted," said Dorfmann.

According to the EU Commission, the publication of the report was put on hold because shortcomings - related to modelling changes in consumer behaviour, such as recent shifts in dietary trends - were identified.

After months of reflection, the institution decided to publish the study anyway to "enable a discussion with the scientific community" while concluding that these shortcomings should be better addressed in future studies and impact assessments, a commission spokesperson told EUobserver.

Copa-Cogeca did not respond when asked to explain its position regarding the Farm to Fork strategy.

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