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3rd Aug 2020

Green Deal

Pandemic reveals weakness of EU food system

  • Experts warn that it will be impossible to limit global warming if the EU's food and farming systems are not transformed (Photo: Camilo Rueda López)

The restrictive measures imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus have disrupted the usual cross-border flow of seasonal workers for this time of the year, affecting the EU's food supply system.

Farmers of asparagus, strawberries or apples across the bloc have already warned that they might have to ditch this year's crop season, which mainly relies on workers from eastern Europe and third countries.

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However, the EU commissioner for agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, said on Wednesday (15 April) that "the problem of acquiring seasonal workers has improved significantly" thanks to the 'green corridors' that allow free circulation of goods and workers across EU borders.

"For the future, we should think how to make agriculture more resilient to a future crisis," he added.

In the EU, around three billion tonnes of agri-food are transported every year, according to Wojciechowski, who said Europe should reconsider "how to make shorter the distance from farm to fork".

Meanwhile, a group of 40 environmental NGOs and civil society on Wednesday (15 April) urged the European Commission not to delay publication of the "Farm to Fork Strategy" - which aims to develop a sustainable food system for Europe as part of its Green Deal.

No more delays

This strategy is perceived by some vested interests as a threat to the existing Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), since it could work as a precursor for an agricultural policy with higher environmental ambition.

"Covid-19 has strikingly brought to light some of the dysfunctions of our current globalised and unsustainable food systems, based on long and specialised chains, with a strong dependency on foreign and migrant workers in poor working conditions," activists warned in the letter addressed to the commission.

"The 'Farm to Fork' strategy has the potential to build the foundations of a resilient, healthy, equitable, ecological and overall sustainable food system that is able to withstand future shocks," it adds.

Initially, the commission had been expected to announce this plan - together with the Biodiversity strategy - on the 25 March, but the publication date was postponed until 29 April due to the coronavirus outbreak.

However, several sources indicate that the commission plans to postpone it once again.

"In principle, the policy papers are ready. But we want to make sure that these strategies [Farm2Fork and Biodiversity] receive the attention that they deserve," commission sources told EUobserver.

No reason to delay?

However, environmental activists believe that the coronavirus pandemic should be considered as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to proceeding with the commission's plans.

"Lessons will be drawn from the Covid-19 pandemic on how to make our food systems more robust in the long-term, but there are no credible reasons to delay the Farm to Fork strategy any further," said Jabier Ruiz, senior policy officer at the European branch of NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

According to the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it will be impossible to limit global warming if there is no transformation of the world's food and farming system.

The EU's food chain was found to contribute to air, water and soil pollution, as well as biodiversity loss and the increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Protecting the environment, restoring biodiversity and making significant reductions in the production and consumption of animal products are urgently needed to bring a true shift towards sustainable food production and humane farming systems," said Olga Kikou, head of NGO Compassion in World Farming EU.

Additionally, MEPs of the European Parliament's committee on agriculture on Wednesday voiced their concern about the future EU's long-term budget and the funding that will be directed for agriculture.

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