What's new

Over the last months there have been a few new things that are having a big influence on the Agrifood sector in Europe. 

Read about the influence of the Coronavirus on European Agriculture and find out about the new Farm to Fork strategy that will be revealed by the end of March.

The EU Farm to Fork Strategy 

On the 2nd of March 2020, EURACTIV revealed a leak of a draft version of the Farm to Fork Strategy of the European Union, falling under the framework proposal of the Green Deal which is due to be revealed by the end of March. Five targets have been singled out by the new proposal: pesticides, fertilizers, antimicrobials, organic farming, and obesity. The first two are no surprise and were mentioned in the Green Deal proposal in January already. The three latter, however, shed light on the possible development of European agriculture.  

The use of antimicrobials in farmed animals has been mentioned by Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides to tackle micro biotical resistance. There is no set percentage yet, however a mandatory target can be expected, overhauling set EU legislation on the matter. 

The increase of the EU’s land area dedicated to organic farming is the second target, which will be a mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches to encouraging production and consumption. Integrated in this, will be the ‘higher uptake’ of precision farming, agro-ecology, and agro-forestry.  

Quite surprisingly, obesity is the third new target, with aims to cut the rise in obesity by 2030. One of these proposals will be one for harmonised front-of-pack nutrition labelling. An investigation in the marketing into the ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ labelling will also be launched, as food waste is recognised as a major greenhouse gas source.  

Finally, the methane emission of livestock farming is highlighted, which was surprisingly absent from the Green Deal proposal as it came out. A supporting measure of promoting protein-rich produce has been revealed earlier. 

In the Farm to Fork Strategy, digital tools will be used to empower consumers to make healthy and balanced choices. Further, those innovations will be fostered in the Strategy at the stages of food processing, distributions and at the food and feed services stage. The labeling dispositions included in the Farm to Fork Strategy will also be very likely to rely, at least partially, on digital labeling in order to increase the visibility of nutrition facts and increase the traceability of products.  

The Farm to Fork Strategy, although led by DG Sante was drafted in close cooperation with DG AGRI. In that sense, and as stated above, it will be interlinked with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The solutions to increase the sustainability of farming practises, in the view of DG AGRI, rely in the field of precision farming. To this extent, it is likely that digital solutions in the agricultural field to foster the advent of precision farming in Europe will be incentivised by the upcoming CAP.  

On the 16th of March 2020, the British Chamber of Commerce organised a lunch event on the Farm to Fork Strategy. During this event, Ms Sabine Julicher, Director of Food and Feed Safety and Innovation at DG Sante was invited to present and host a Q&A session. SmartAgriHubs was attending. At that time, it was mentioned that the current events regarding the epidemic of CoVid-19 would not affect the timeline of the release of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, schedule for the end of March. However, this situation should be monitored as the release of the EU Commission’s Communication on the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Action Plan that goes along with it can be impacted by the closure of Commission buildings this month.  

The impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on European Agriculture 

The pandemic of CoVid-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, is affecting us all. With most western EU countries on lockdown at the time of writing this article, it is expected that the European economy, and even the world’s economy, will face a sharp decline. Although most of us are able nowadays to work remotely from home, this practice is not – yet – widely available in the field of Agriculture. Despite the increase of innovation in the sector, fostered by projects such as SmartAgriHubs, most farmers still have to be active in the field. How will the coronavirus impact their activity?

The good news is the fact that the WHO recently reported that no evidence suggested transmission of the virus through food, meaning that the food supply chain can still run relatively smoothly without taking additional precautions. Further, food retailers stay open throughout Europe despite the confinements measures, meaning the demand of food will not be negatively impacted. Additionally, with fear spreading throughout populations in the wake of lockdown announcements, a panic-buying frenzy has hit western EU nations, driving the demand not only for toilet paper but also for non-perishable food items such as canned foods, pasta, rice and flour to name a few.

Nevertheless, although countries like France and Germany have announced measures to protect the food supply chain nationally, and the EU has announced measures to protect the European food-supply chain throughout the Union, the coronavirus emergency in Italy is affecting locally sourced food markets, as they’re facing a substantial decrease in customers, who are leaving their homes only in cases of emergency. The owner of an agricultural holding in Veneto told local newspaper Il Mattino di Padova that so far 20 tonnes of ‘radicchio’, a well-known Italian variety of chicory, went wasted due to the drop in demand of local food products. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

Finally, although the demand for food items currently remains high, the long-term impacts of such a widespread event, although unpredictable, are already perceived as negative. Dairy and fruit and vegetable exporters have been the first to notice changes, but demand for products has remained high. However, many in the sector are apprehensive about how the coronavirus will change trade flows, and more concrete impacts are expected to be visible by April or May.

This pandemic will undoubtedly have a major impact on the European economy and on the Agricultural sector. Our thoughts at SmartAgriHubs go out to all the people affected by the disease as well as their families and loved ones. We will all get through these difficult times and we sincerely hope that by time our next newsletter comes around, the world will have overcome this pandemic, learned the lessons it will teach us and come out stronger and more united. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to, not only the European medical personnel who is working relentlessly to combat this health crisis, but also to all the people working in the European food chain, working persistently to keep Europeans fed.