Policy & Markets

EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy Misses Mark

The Farm to Fork Strategy proposal strives to decrease pesticide use, but instead increases agricultural land use and hunger in U.S. and abroad.

The European Union’s (EU) Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) might have admirable climate goals — but the price tag for farmers and the global population is high.

Some of the proposed changes include strict guidelines for fertilizer and pesticide use along with increased organic production goals. They look good on paper, but the impact of F2F approval is an imposition on EU farmers who would have to use more land and spend more money —; both of which will produce lower yields. Lower yields mean more people go hungry.

And if passed, it might not be long before more growers than just those in the EU are losing income.

“Farm to Fork isn’t something that’s just going to affect European farmers,” says Mary Kay Thatcher, senior manager of Federal Government and Industry Relations at Syngenta. “It could easily limit the ability for the U.S. farmer to export products to those countries. There’s no question that the EU will further limit the use of pesticides on imported crops, and U.S. farmers need to understand what’s going on.”

A Brief Overview: Farm to Fork

F2F falls under the European Green Deal, an initiative that strives to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

“A shift to a sustainable food system can bring environmental, health and social benefits, offer economic gains and ensure that the recovery from the [COVID-19] crisis puts us onto a sustainable path,” says Stella Kyriakides, EU directorate-general for health and food safety in the Farm to Fork Strategy prepared for the European Commission.


We applaud the EU’s goal of improving environmental sustainability in agriculture, but policies must also address food security and livelihood of farmers.

Mary Kay Thatcher Senior Manager, Federal Government and Industry Relations at Syngenta

But Ted McKinney, agricultural consultant and former undersecretary of agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs, sees problems with the F2F Strategy. “The EU’s intentions are good with this program, for example, their objectives are laudable but their tactics don’t work,” he says. “They didn’t ask farmers — they didn’t even ask the commissioner of agriculture at the EU — making the plan.”

Ultimately, the EU wants to change the global standard for how food is raised — and the F2F plan is positioned as the first step.

A few highlights on new restrictions proposed in the F2F Strategy include reducing the overall use of pesticides by 50%, limiting nutrient losses by 50% by requiring farmers to use 20% less fertilizer by 2030, requiring more carbon-efficient livestock production, removing 50% of antimicrobials in farmed animals and aquaculture production by 2030, and transitioning at least 25% of EU’s agricultural land to organic farming practices.

“We applaud the EU’s goal of improving environmental sustainability in agriculture, but policies must also address food security and livelihood of farmers,” Thatcher says. “There are many trade-offs to be managed — such as significantly increased land use of organic farming — and targeting the use of inputs in isolation will not do anything to mitigate climate change. We would rather work with all stakeholders to establish a functioning measurement and incentive system for increasing carbon in soil, limiting greenhouse gas emissions and increasing biodiversity.

“Healthy nature and productive agriculture are not contradictions. At Syngenta, we believe there is a place for many different agricultural practices, and their impact needs to be properly and thoroughly assessed,” she continues.

This proposed strategy would only regulate EU farmers to start but that might not be the case for long.

“The EU is a major agricultural producer and participant in international agricultural trade. This policy shift is likely to affect international markets for agricultural commodities.” the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reports in “Economic and Food Security Impacts of Agricultural Input Reduction Under the European Union Green Deal’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.”

U.S. farmers have seen EU decisions impact them at the farm gate before through nontariff changes, Thatcher says. “Prices are likely to fall if this goes through because it’ll push our exports down and the EU is our 5th biggest trade partner.”

To put it into numbers, a recent study by ERS shows that if the F2F Strategy is adopted globally, gross farm incomes will decrease by 34%. Per capita food costs in the U.S. will increase by $512. Globally, they’ll increase by $450 per capita. Furthermore, ERS forecasts 185 million more people would go hungry.

A Harder Way to Farm

The F2F Strategy restricts farmer options and impedes farmers’ right to choose how they farm. It’ll start in the EU only but could quickly begin to impact global production.

“If they’re further limiting the use of pesticides, and they’re checking for residues, it’s likely going to change production practices here,” Thatcher explains. This would require a different focus in what currently is an efficient system.

McKinney believes the basis of much of the proposed plan is flawed. The idea that organic farming and reducing the use of pesticides that have been proven safe will make the climate and producers better off is not accurate, he says.

“If you’re not allowed to use pesticides or you’re forced to go organic, you still have to find some way to get rid of weeds and pests,” McKinney explains. “It’s not going to work with no-till, for example, and you’ll have to pull out the moldboard plow and do a lot of tillage, and you’ll see more erosion and certainly more greenhouse gas emissions.”