Written by Rachele Rossi.
The ‘farm to fork’ strategy is a roadmap to build a sustainable European Union (EU) food system, in line with the aims of the European Green Deal. Launched in May 2020, the strategy includes initiatives that are progressing at different speeds, within a lively political debate on the strategy’s objectives and priorities. The EU institutions are helping to shape the various elements of the strategy.
European Commission proposal – Where do we stand?
On 20 May 2020, the European Commission adopted a communication on ‘A farm to fork strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system’, to address priorities and challenges relating to every step in the food chain. The strategy announced a number of legislative and non‑legislative initiatives, most of them listed in an annexed action plan. One of the leading initiatives was a proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems (FSFS) – expected in 2023 – which was the subject of a public consultation in 2022 and includes the planned initiative on a sustainability labelling framework.
The Commission has already delivered on some ‘farm to fork’ strategy initiatives, for instance:
- the 2020 recommendations to EU countries on their common agricultural policy (CAP) strategic plans;
- the 2021 contingency plan to ensure food supply and food security in times of crisis;
- the EU code of conduct on responsible food business and marketing practices, in force as of July 2021;
- a proposal for a directive on corporate sustainability due diligence, put forward in 2022.
The timetable for some initiatives is set in the EU biodiversity strategy (for instance the 2021 organic production action plan and the future action plan on better nutrient management). Other initiatives require multiple actions over a longer period, such as the improvement of producers’ position in the food chain, which involves the operation of EU rules on unfair trading practices and of CAP rules on agricultural markets.
The following tables outline ongoing and future ‘farm to fork’ strategy initiatives as regards food chain production segments (see Table 1) and areas spanning food services to food consumption (see Table 2).
Table 1 – Ongoing and planned ‘farm to fork’ strategy initiatives on sustainable food production
|Initiative||State of play|
|Plant protection products (PPPs)||In June 2022, the Commission put forward a legislative proposal on the sustainable use of PPPs. Other rules adopted in the course of 2022 concern the facilitation of the marketing of PPPs with biological active substances and the collection of pesticide statistics.|
|Farm sustainability data network (FSDN)||In June 2022, the Commission put forward a legislative proposal to include data on sustainable farming practices in the current farm accountancy data network (FADN).|
|Feed additives||Current feed additives rules were the subject of an evaluation in 2021, with a view to the adoption of a proposal for a regulation due in 2021 but not yet adopted.|
|Carbon farming||After its 2021 communication on sustainable carbon cycles, the Commission is due to adopt a legislative proposal on EU rules on certifying carbon removals on farms in 2022.|
|New genomic techniques (NGTs)||Following a 2021 study on the status of NGTs under EU law, a public consultation took place in 2022 and the adoption of a legislative proposal on NGTs is due in 2023.|
|Animal welfare||Once the fitness check of EU animal welfare legislation has been finalised in 2022, the revision of the legislation, including on animal transport and slaughter, is due in 2023.|
Table 2 – Ongoing and planned ‘farm to fork’ strategy initiatives beyond food production
|Initiative||State of play|
|Geographical indications (GIs)||A legislative proposal published in 2022 aims to strengthen the legislative framework for GIs, so as to improve protection of intellectual property rights and increase uptake of GIs.|
|Promotion policy||After a public consultation, the Commission aims to enhance the role of EU promotion campaigns for agri‑food products in sustainable production and consumption in 2022.|
|Marketing standards||The legislative proposals expected in 2022 to revise marketing standards for fish and seafood products, agricultural products, and seeds and forests, have yet to be published.|
|Nutrient profiles||A legislative initiative on nutrient thresholds (announced for 2022) is still in preparation.|
|Food labelling||Preparatory work is ongoing on revised EU laws (announced for 2022) on front‑of‑pack nutrition labelling, origin indication for certain products, and date marking.|
|Food contact materials||New rules on recycled plastic intended to come into contact with food entered into force in 2022, while a major overhaul of EU food contact material laws is announced for 2023.|
|Food procurement and school scheme||In 2023, the Commission is set to put forward minimum criteria for sustainable public procurement of food, and a review of the legal framework for the EU school scheme.|
|Food waste||In 2023, the Commission plans to propose legally binding targets to reduce food waste.|
When it comes to the ‘farm to fork’ strategy’s global dimension, a 2022 Commission report indicates tools to promote production sustainability standards in imports. It also identifies some areas for action: multilateral forums, bilateral cooperation and trade agreements, and unilateral EU measures. The chapter on sustainable food systems featuring in recent bilateral trade agreements and the legislative initiative on deforestation‑free goods are examples of measures to promote the global sustainability transition sought by the strategy.
The debate around the strategy remains lively
Generally greeted as a long‑awaited move towards a more sustainable EU food system, the ‘farm to fork’ strategy is contentious on two points. First, stakeholders and decision‑makers disagree on whether action on food emergencies (such as those caused first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by Russia’s war on Ukraine) should be prioritised over action on the environment and climate emergencies (which the strategy aims to tackle). Second, the Commission has not accommodated stakeholders’ and policy‑makers’ requests for an impact assessment of the strategy, whereas various studies have warned that some elements of the strategy risk having a negative effect on agricultural production. The Commission has stressed that most of the strategy’s initiatives involve an impact assessment, in line with the better regulation approach. Despite some delay on a few initiatives, the Commission intends to implement the strategy as planned.
The EU institutions’ positions
In Parliament, an October 2021 resolution on the ‘farm to fork’ strategy backed its main elements, stressing such issues as building a sustainable common food policy, helping the sustainability transition, and producing healthier food. The Council’s October 2020 conclusions on the strategy broadly welcomed the initiatives announced, conveying political messages on the need to ensure food security and support producers while contributing to EU climate neutrality by 2050. Both the European Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee welcomed the ‘farm to fork’ strategy in 2020. They suggested issues for consideration and identified gaps to address for an effective roadmap. These included the need for consistency between food‑related policies and the contribution of local and rural communities to such policies, the necessity of fair food prices reflecting the environmental and societal cost of production, and reciprocity of standards in trade agreements.
Read this ‘at a glance’ note on ‘Taking the EU’s ‘farm to fork’ strategy forward‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.