Party for the Animals takes the lead in improving the European agricultural strategy
“Fewer pesticides, fewer antibiotics and fewer animals!” Last week, Anja Hazekamp, MEP for the Dutch Party for the Animals, presented plans to create an honest, healthy and sustainable food system 'from Farm to Fork'. Hazekamp: “The way in which food is produced in Europe has a substantial, worldwide effect on the climate and environment, as well as on the health and well-being of humans and animals. That is why we are making some concrete recommendations to drastically reduce the climate and environmental impact of our food system, making food and its production healthier as a result.”
This week and last week, the 'Farm to Fork' strategy is high on the agenda of the European Parliament. The agricultural strategy was first presented by the European Commission in May of last year. According to Anja Hazekamp, it was “a first step in the direction of a more sustainable and healthy food system, but still far from perfect”. That is why she wrote an ambitious follow-up plan as a rapporteur for the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety in collaboration with the Committee on Agricultural and Rural Development. The entire European Parliament will vote on the plan in a plenary session soon.
“Healthy food, a healthy society and a healthy planet cannot be seen as separate things”, Hazekamp states in the report. “Industrial livestock farming and monocultures, with their extensive use of chemicals, are disastrous to humans, animals and the environment. We need to get rid of large-scale, intensive food production methods.”
How healthy our food is, depends not just on its composition, but on the way it was produced as well. The production process has a large impact on our living environment and as a result, on our health. Food- and agricultural systems emit about 30% of all greenhouse gasses worldwide. Within the EU, agriculture is responsible for about 90% of all ammonia emissions. Because of this, our current food system is one of the main causes of air pollution, the destruction of nature, and the climate crisis. The excessive use of pesticides causes serious damage to the health of humans, animals, and the environment.
Besides this, the livestock industry is a breeding ground for zoonoses, diseases that jump from animals to humans. The current COVID-19 pandemic shows what the results of a zoonotic disease can be. At this moment, more than seven billion farm animals are bred in the European Union each year. They are often housed in large numbers in cramped spaces. “A kind of Russian roulette”, states Hazekamp. “If we do not make our food system sustainable, it is a question of when, not if, the next infectious animal disease breaks out. We have already seen diseases such as Q-Fever and Influenza A emerge in the livestock industry. We cannot ignore such warnings any longer.”
Honest information, ambition, and determination
The report pushes for a truly ambitious agricultural strategy. It calls on the European Commission to explicitly recognise the consequences of the industrial livestock industry on the climate, environment, and biodiversity. It urges the European Commission to take the necessary action by legally binding EU countries to reduce the use of pesticides and antibiotics, by no longer subsidising industrial agriculture and livestock farming, and by stimulating the production of local, organic, and plant-based foods. Switching to more plant-based proteins is the way to solve many environmental and climate issues and prevent further deforestation within and outside of Europe, according to Hazekamp. Some years ago, Oxford scientists concluded that we can feed the world population and give land back to nature at the same time if we turn to a more plant-based diet.
Hazekamp also pleads for better and more honest information on products. “You cannot hold consumers accountable for the transition to a healthy food system. But as long as meat and other products that have serious effects on health, the environment, the climate, and animal welfare are being sold, they should contain truthful information”, states the MEP. “Next to this, the most sustainable and healthy food options should be the most affordable ones.”
One of the reasons why such measures have not yet been included in the Farm to Fork strategy, or have even been scrapped from previous concept versions, is the lobby by the biggest interest group for European Farmers. Research by the Corporate Europe Observatory has shown that the demands made behind the scenes by this interest group strongly contradict its public statements of support for family farming, the Green Deal and Paris Agreement. “The lobby group is actually not really defending the interests of farmers, who are getting wiped out as a social group by the industrialisation and concentration of farming,' but rather 'those of the agribusiness industry'. Farmers are being squashed by the industrialisation and continuous scale-up of agriculture,” states the report.
Worldwide transition - especially for the farmers
Opponents of agricultural transition often paint an image in which agricultural interests and the environment are at opposite sides. Unjustly so, according to Anja Hazekamp. “Climate change and loss of biodiversity are the biggest threats to farmers. Droughts, floods, and a loss of genetic diversity undermine the basis needed for food security. As such, a liveable climate and robust nature are in farmers’ best interests.”
In her speech of last week, Hazekamp denounced the recently adopted Common Agricultural Policy of the EU, in which agricultural financing was established for the coming seven years. “Countless reports have been published that state we are moving towards a dead end”, Hazekamp states. “Still, the CAP chooses to continue down this road. How do you, Committee, think you will be able to achieve your environmental and climate goals while continuing to subsidise the industrial livestock industry with billions of euros at the same time?”