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Prepare for the next superpower showdown across the Atlantic. This time, the ideological clash concerns the way we grow our food.
In the race to reduce the damage agriculture is doing to the climate, the EU and US are heading towards a high-stakes deadlock on how to transform the global food system, and their dueling visions could mean that we are all losers.
The brewing cold war between the two agricultural heavyweights over the future of agriculture risks undermining not only tens of billions of euros in agricultural trade every year, but also threatens to undermine the aspiration more fundamental to reversing global warming through cooperation on food systems, which are responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s pretty clear that there are two different paths, and I think the United States and many other countries are going to take a path [and] the EU is going to take a different path, ”US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told POLITICO in an interview in which he barely veiled his criticism of the EU’s agricultural philosophy.
Chief American scarecrow is the European Farm to Fork strategy, which aims to prioritize sustainability by halving the use of pesticides by 2030 and ensuring that organic production covers a quarter of European farmland. For Washington, it is a recipe for disaster that will reduce crop yields, push up food prices and threaten food security. The US Department of Agriculture has released economic models indicating that global food production would drop 11 percent and prices would rise 89 percent if all countries followed the European model.
“The world must feed itself, and it must feed itself in a sustainable way. And we can’t essentially sacrifice one for the other, ”Vilsack said.
Coalition of Plowmen
In what Vilsack described as the American response to Farm to Fork, the United States unveiled a new international coalition to increase food production in a sustainable manner as part of the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September. It is a consortium through which he seeks to bring countries together, probably across the Americas initially, to ensure that the EU does not dictate new standards in the cornfields and dairy farms of the world.
“There are a number of countries who strongly believe that we cannot sacrifice productivity to achieve a goal of sustainability,” said Vilsack.
Trade these days is all about the battle for international standards, and the US has long reflected on how the EU has demonstrated its trade policy to impose global food standards, including food labels. ‘geographical indication that protect its high-end brands such as Champagne and Parma. Ham.
Washington does not want the European gastronomic and agronomic model to spread further, especially since the repercussions of pesticides and genetically modified foods are no longer limited to Europe. Mexico, for example, sent shockwaves into the agricultural world with its plan to ban the ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate and genetically modified corn.
Vilsack’s overriding fear is that Europe will use its divergent food standards to erect more barriers to trade. And he’s right that the writing is on the wall.
During its EU presidency in the first half of next year, France seeks to legislate restrictions on imports from countries the EU considers to have lower standards, including with regard to the use of agrochemicals. Vilsack countered that the Paris plan would create “a trading system that is not really a trading system.”
Influential US farm lobbies are also concerned that Farm to Fork will hurt their bottom line by erecting new barriers to their products entering the EU market, where they are already struggling to sell products like meat. across the Atlantic due to different standards, and wonder if the plan might push other countries to follow Brussels’ lead.
“A concern that emerges from this for us is, in the future, [Farm to Fork] lead to new trade barriers if they decide that the way they want to produce food is the only way and they only want to let in products from the outside that produce food the same way? Said David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farmers’ organization in the United States. We don’t know in which direction it will go.
Salmonsen added: “What this coalition is supposed to do is show a different way to achieve the same goals… approach to the way the EU agenda does.”
Standing 180 degrees to the US position, EU Green Deal leader Frans Timmermans this year stressed that productivity growth should no longer be paramount.
“We have created a system that causes farmers to get bigger and bigger all the time. But this system has pushed the Earth beyond its limits, ”he said. We need to stop counting success in terms of the number of “food cars” we produce, he urged.
Unsurprisingly, the United States disagrees with Timmermans’ analysis, arguing that instead of abandoning the philosophy of productivity-driven agriculture for the sake of the climate, it can have the best of luck. two worlds, by investing in technologies and practices presented as climate smart. like gene editing, artificial intelligence and precision farming, and without all the new regulations that Brussels is considering.
Vilsack’s productivity coalition plan has drawn fierce criticism from the greenest parts of the EU political spectrum.
“It is the complete opposite of long-term food security to promote agricultural systems which literally destroy the fundamental part of our production, which is the soil,” said Thomas Waitz, Austrian member of the European Parliament from the Greens. He dismissed Vilsack’s comments as “an appearance of brutal lobbying for the GMO sector”.
During President Donald Trump’s time, Washington also did not mince words, warning that the EU’s plan risked global famine if rolled out across the globe. But even under new US President Joe Biden, Washington continues to rain attacks on Farm to Fork.
Vilsack was keen to point out that Farm to Fork has been criticized by Europe’s own farmers as a threat to their food yields.
Indeed, in a firm statement in September, The EU farmer lobby, Copa & Cogeca, raised concerns about a potentially large drop in production and asked: “How many more studies on the impact of the farm-to-fork strategy? are they necessary before a real debate starts in Brussels? “
Digging into a defensive stance, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told the World Agri-Tech event on Tuesday that it was still too early to see how the farm to fork would impact productivity. , and that the Commission should wait and see how countries plan to implement the EU’s next giant agricultural subsidy program, known as the Common Agricultural Policy, before passing any judgment.
According to an EU diplomat, at a meeting of diplomats from 27 EU countries on September 20, “many countries” asked the Commission to conduct a comprehensive impact assessment on the impact of the EU. farm-to-fork strategy in the agricultural sector, joining the agribusiness lobbies. pesticides to the fertilizer industry calling for a study.
If the EU fails in its stated mission of forging ‘green alliances’ with non-EU countries, its flagship food and agriculture strategy could end up turning the EU into a glorified organic supermarket, no doubt producing better, more sustainable and more valuable food – but with little impact on raising global environmental standards.
In June, EU Food Safety Officer Almut Bitterhof said that when it comes to changing pesticide use around the world via Farm to Fork, the returns were “very mixed” from the from “several” EU trading partners who complain that the EU is too arrogant. The EU is considering, for example, to ban imports of food products made from agrochemicals that contribute to global environmental problems such as the decline of pollinators.
The divergence of views on what should be considered sustainable agriculture could reflect the current rivalry between the EU and the US over protected foods, where each side wants to sign trade deals that prevent the other from protecting their products. personalized, said Joseph Glauber, senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
“It really creates that kind of forked world,” he said, referring to the long-standing GI dispute. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. Having a certain notion of equivalence would be much, much better for the world. Glauber added, however, that he does not envision an immediately erupting trade war over this, as the EU and US sustainability plans are not yet very advanced.
Alexander Müller, former Deputy Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said: “Today we have a sort of aggressive silence between the US and the EU on this issue. , and it’s really dangerous because it doesn’t solve the problem. “He said there was a missed opportunity to open a debate on the merits of the two rival food systems at the recent United Nations Food Systems Summit.
Glauber said: “These are important issues that need to be tackled and really taken seriously,” referring to climate change and food security. “It will be much less useful if countries work on it in two totally different directions.”
Gabriela Galindo and Ximena Bustillo contributed reporting.
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