Friday

27th May 2022

Opinion

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

  • The EU is taking a different approach, one based more on "political science" than demonstrated agricultural science - this will stifle innovation and tie the hands of European farmers (Photo: Pixabay)

The United States and Europe share a great history, a history that goes back centuries and will continue for centuries to come.

This shared history has seen the advent of new technologies that have transformed life and bettered the human condition.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • US secretary for agriculture Sonny Pardue. 'I met with European farmers just outside Brussels earlier this year. Many of them shared concerns that farming is becoming a welfare profession due to government policies.' (Photo: US agriculture department)

As the world population continues to grow, we are all faced with the common challenge of how to produce enough food while maintaining the health of the environment. While we in the US share the EU's commitment to sustainability, we disagree on how best to achieve it.

I am convinced that embracing innovation and technology in agriculture is the only way to sustainably feed the world for centuries to come.

Farmers and producers around the world are facing the same two overarching challenges:

First, to produce enough food and agricultural products to meet the needs of growing populations and rising standards of living.

And second, to have sustainable production systems in place that meet growing food demand year after year.

By 2050, it is estimated the world population will reach 10 billion people. That's a lot of hungry mouths to feed.

The healthy feeding of that population increase literally presents a life and death challenge. Since we are working from a fixed resource base, to be successful we must embrace the technological advances and innovations of modern agriculture that increase productivity.

As a practical matter, farmers need to be profitable and food needs to be affordable even as we reduce agriculture's environmental footprint. To ensure that, we must balance the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainability.

Technological innovations that expand productivity are the only way to satisfy all three of these dimensions.

Environmental sustainability is critical if we are going to maintain the health of our soil, water, and air while meeting food and fiber demand. The only way we're going to feed the world while minimising agriculture's impact on the environment is by producing more with less total inputs. The good news is that we know it can be done.

Over the last 90 years, commodity production has increased by 400 percent while acreage in production has dropped by nine percent. An approach that unnecessarily sacrifices productivity to meet environmental goals will fail the responsibility of feeding the planet, and likely blunt the economic dynamism of the farm sector.

Social sustainability needs to be a priority.

By increasing productivity and efficiency we contribute to food security by improving the accessibility and affordability of food.

In 1950, 72 percent of the world's population lived below the poverty line. Today, less than 100 years later, less than 10 percent of the world's population lives below the poverty line.

This dramatic transformation happened in great part due to increases in agricultural productivity. Thanks to policies that spurred investment in new technologies, we are able to produce more food and trade it globally, which directly benefits consumers all over the world. Improving environmental and economic sustainability counts for nothing if consumers cannot afford to put safe, high quality food on the table.

That's why economic sustainability is equally important.

Farming needs to be profitable to continue to attract young farmers to the profession.

Increasing productivity is one of the only ways to ensure decent livelihoods for farmers and farm workers. We know farmers will continue to face input and regulatory costs in the future. That means they will need a reliable way to increase income to stay in business.

Farmers all over the world want to earn their income at the market.

I met with European farmers just outside Brussels earlier this year. Many of them shared concerns that farming is becoming a welfare profession due to government policies. Moreover, successful farmers are usually the best environmental stewards. In the United States we've seen that profitability and environmental protections do not have to be mutually exclusive.

American farmers are achieving a dramatic increase in productivity with fewer resources by harnessing innovation and technology. By producing more with less we have a chance to address all three dimensions of the sustainability challenge.

Farm to Fork strategy

The EU is taking a different approach, one based more on "political science" than demonstrated agricultural science.

This approach will stifle innovation and tie the hands of European farmers. While we commend the EU's commitment to sustainability, the Farm to Fork Strategy as proposed is a recipe for high cost and low output agricultural production.

Not only does that undermine sustainability, but threatening to make farmers less competitive has already led to calls for trade protectionism. The EU cannot take away the tools of European farmers and expect them to be able to compete in the global economy.

Putting barriers between the world's producers and consumers, discouraging innovation needed to increase production, and stifling economic growth is exactly the wrong way to meet the global food challenge.

With this strategy it appears Europe has forgotten the "farm" in "farm to fork."

Farmers must be able to utilise technology and innovation rather than be hindered by government policies that restrict growth and stifle innovation. I fear the EU is letting inaccurate public perception rather than sound science drive policy, which will prove to be at the detriment of their own hardworking farmers and the world's consumers.

We hope to continue to build upon our shared history by working together to feed the growing world.

As global leaders, we should move forward with policies to protect the environment and enhance food security, and our policy formulation should be transparent, data-driven, and science-based.

The United States and EU have long been partners, but we must agree on sound science rather than political science if we are to succeed in this shared goal.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Coronavirus threat to EU farm seasonal workers

The restrictive measures taken by many member states to respond to the coronavirus outbreak make it difficult for EU farmers and fishermen to continue their daily work - which is disrupting the agri-food sector across the continent.

Investigation

Farmers among new MEPs deciding on EU farming money

Renew Europe MEP Asger Christensen, from Denmark, earns €20,000 per month as a farmer. He became a member of the agriculture committee, which could create a conflict of interest situation.

Column

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is back

Ukraine is finally understood — and hopefully Belarus will be soon too — as a self-standing society and state with close links to its EU neighbours, rather being relegated to Russia's backyard.

Brexit hostility to Good Friday Agreement is damaging UK in US

Democratic Unionist MPs could affirm unequivocally they support the Good Friday Agreement, with no return of a border with physical controls on movement of people, goods or agricultural produce within the island of Ireland — but they won't.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us