The European Farm to Fork (1) and Biodiversity 2030 (2) strategies are an integral part of the Green Deal (3) which aims in particular to achieve carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050. The strategies are also in line with the sustainability goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 (4). The Economic Service of the US Department of Agriculture carried out a study to evaluate the impact of these policies on agricultural production and world food prices, and therefore on global food security (5).
USDA findings on study: a pessimistic view
The USDA report examined three scenarios for adopting the European strategies:
- Adoption by the European Union (EU) only
- Adoption by some countries, and explicit EU trade restrictions against non-adopting countries
- Global adoption
The USDA report predicts a 7% drop in agricultural production in the EU by 2030 and increased world food insecurity.
In all three cases, the report deems the impact on global food security to be negative, due to a drop in agricultural production and a concomitant rise in global prices. A decrease in production is linked to the goals laid out by the European Commission (EC), namely: cutting back on nitrogen fertilizers by 20% and pesticides and antibiotics by 50%, and decreasing farmland by 10%. According to the USDA, agricultural production in the EU would fall by 12% (adoption by UE) and 7% (global adoption). The number of people exposed to food insecurity in 2030 would jump by 22 million (adoption by UE), and up to 185 million (global adoption).
INRAE analysis: USDA study fails to look at full picture
A group of INRAE experts analysed the USDA study and showed that it fails to take into account all aspects of the European strategy. Indeed, it is based on an American model (6) that focuses on supply and markets, all other things being equal, and fails to include other parameters such as changing agricultural practices and food demand.
- Drops in agricultural production
The USDA scenarios fail to factor in technological advances in their simulations. It is reasonable to expect that strides made in genetics will result in crops and livestock animals that are more resistant to biotic and abiotic stress by 2030.
The USDA study calculates the decrease in production that would result from EC targets for each agricultural product. But this calculation is made assuming that agricultural systems will remain unchanged. However, European strategy calls for a profound change of these systems, toward more efficient use of inputs, agroecological practices that rely less on inputs, and genetic improvements in plant and animal species. All of these change levers would mitigate drops in agricultural production linked to a decrease in chemical inputs and a reduction in farmland.
- Rising world prices
When demand is constant or growing, a drop in production automatically triggers a spike in prices. But in a coherent approach to agrifood systems, European strategy encourages lower demand, thanks to reduced calorie content and western diets less rich in animal products. The USDA report takes neither these changes in diet nor a reduction in food waste encouraged by the EC into account.
- Environmental and health costs of current practices left out of the equation
Lastly, the USDA report does not take into account the environmental and health costs of current agricultural practices (e.g. nitrogen, pesticides), which are significant and subject to more and more precise evaluations.
- Farm to fork strategy
- 2030 Biodiversity strategy
- European Green Deal
- United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
- USDA-ERS: United State Department of Agriculture - Economic Research Service. Read the report here
- GTAP-AEZ model Global Trade Analysis Project - AgroEcological Zone: model for general equilibrium of world economy developed by Purdue University.
Guy Richard, one of the INRAE experts who carried out the study, concludes:
“The USDA study only takes part of the European strategy into account, leading to an overestimation of its drawbacks. However, the European strategy calls for an integrated and coherent approach to agrifood systems, where cutbacks in inputs and farmland would go hand in hand with profound changes in agricultural practices and diets. Moreover, not taking into account the non-market-related effects of using chemical inputs makes a global evaluation of all of the strategies impossible. Lastly, the USDA considers two scenarios where the EC would impose its goals on other countries, regardless of their level of development, which is unthinkable, particularly in Africa. It would therefore be interesting to back up this American study with a new configuration and broader evaluation criteria to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the consequences of the European Green Deal on satisfying the needs of Europeans and people in general”.