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Greener Farms and Healthier Food Key to EU’s Climate Plan

A local worker wearing a protective face mask picks red and green Lollo lettuce from a field at the Hortalisses Carbo farm in Girona, Spain, on Saturday, April 25, 2020. From Huelva to Hamburg and Newcastle to Naples, Europe's farmers are struggling to find people to bring in rapidly ripening fruits and vegetables, which frequently must be hand-picked, usually within a window of just a few days. Photographer: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg

MAY 20, 2020 3:22PM UTC

By Ewa Krukowska

The European Union is seeking to reduce the environmental footprint of its farming and food production industry, forging ahead with its ambitious Green Deal agenda to make the bloc climate-neutral by the middle of the century.

The “Farm to Fork” strategy maps out the ways for the region to halve the use of pesticides and antibiotics, boost organic farming, promote plant-based proteins and make every link of the food system more sustainable. A separate plan on biodiversity lays out steps to restore ecosystems and cut pollution.

The EU wants to make environmental cleanup one of the pillars of an economic plan to recover from the coronavirus crisis. Greening agriculture is one of the biggest challenges in the fight against climate change, with food systems responsible for as much as 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and a contributor to the loss of biodiversity. At the same time, extreme weather events linked to rising temperatures undermine farming and seafood production.

“This is the concrete translation of what we had announced in the Green Deal,” said Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission. “And it is timely, because if the corona crisis has taught us anything it is that we have to recalibrate our relationship with the natural environment.”

The overhaul is also set to become a sensitive political issue in the EU, where the Covid-19 crisis led to shortages of workers in the agriculture sector and underscored the vulnerability of supply chains.

While environmental lobbies have urged a bolder approach by the commission to tackle climate change, the EU strategy has already sparked concerns among farmers and food producers who fear that stricter requirements will undermine their businesses at the time of a recession.

The proposal will be a test case of the commission’s resolve against an industry that has been “extremely influential to stop any change from happening,” according to Pieter de Pous, Berlin-based senior policy adviser at climate think-tank E3G.

Here are the main targets shared in the two strategies:
A 50% reduction of the use of chemical pesticides and more hazardous pesticides by 2030
To cut nutrient losses by at least 50% while ensuring there is no deterioration in soil fertility; this will reduce the use of fertilizers at least 20% by 2030
Boosting organic farming to reach 25% of agricultural land by the end of this decade

As part of the Farm to Fork strategy published Wednesday, the commission also wants to halve the sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture by 2030.

Another goal is to promote the production and use of novel sources of protein, such as algae or insects, reducing the reliance on meat. That would not only make farming more sustainable but also help reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases.

Under the Green Deal, the EU is set to accelerate the current pace of emission reduction, with the goal to zero-out greenhouse gases by 2050. It also wants to be more efficient in how it manages resources. Around a fifth of the food produced is currently wasted in Europe, while 36 million citizens cannot afford a quality meal every second day, according to the commission.

Targets included in the biodiversity strategy include:
Restoring at least 25,000 kilometers of EU rivers to a freeflowing state
Establishing protected areas for at least 30% of land and 30% of sea
Planting 3 billion trees by 2030
Halting and reversing the decline of pollinators

Both blueprints will be followed by draft laws, which’ll need approval by EU member states and the European Parliament to become effective.

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