Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Farm to Fork is the Future: Why the U.S. Should Take Agricultural Inspiration From the EU

By Aishani ShuklaPublished January 17, 2021

Cattle grazing on open field of grass
The United States must revamp its food system, for the health of its citizens and the environment, by curbing the usage of harmful pesticides in agricultural production methods. It should take inspiration from the European Union's Farm to Fork Strategy by promoting organic agriculture nationwide.

The dawn of the 21st century saw global food systems transformed by the mid-1900s Green Revolution and the technological advancements in food production that it gave rise to. Crop genetic improvement produced high yield crops and allowed for rapid increases in agricultural output, and global TFP (ratio of total output to total input in production) doubled from .87% in the period from 1970-1989 to 1.56% in 1990-2006. Many of the crop production methods and technologies conceived during the Green Revolution have continued to dramatically increase agricultural productivity for large swaths of the world.

However, increased dependence on pesticides and fertilizers during the Green Revolution to stimulate the growth of high-yield crops has also caused a steady rise in pesticide usage in global food production since the 1940s, with an estimated 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides currently used worldwide. The United States, a leader in pesticide and chemical fertilizer usage, has failed to acknowledge the hazards of the toxic pesticides that invade its food supply. Meanwhile, the European Union’s 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy, a part of its “European Green Deal”, has taken decisive actions to combat shifts in food production methods imposed by the Green Revolution by implementing targets for pesticide and fertilizer use. The United States should follow the EU’s strategy and adopt sustainable and natural agricultural production methods that can benefit the environment and the health of its citizens.

The Farm to Fork Strategy’s commitment to decreasing pesticide usage in agricultural production is commendable. It has set targets in the EU to reduce hazardous chemical pesticides by 50%, allot 25% of agricultural land as land for organic farming, and cut the use of fertilizers by 20%. These proposed measures are a dramatic shift from policies outlined in the old Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which serves as a foundation for food systems in European Union countries by implementing agricultural subsidies and other programs that are meant to support farmers and the agricultural sector. In previous years, the CAP has failed to support small, organic farmers in implementing sustainable farming practices because it has largely distributed funding to big landowners, companies, and large farmers who practice industrial farming. However, Farm to Fork will address deficiencies in the old CAP by funding eco-schemes, investments, and advisory services that will provide all farmers with resources to help them switch to organic agricultural practices. The plan has faced heavy criticism because of its wholehearted embrace of organic farming, which many criticize as unconducive to scaling up food production.

Despite claims that organic farming is an inefficient use of land, organic agriculture can actually produce higher yields than its conventional counterpart in drought conditions and is associated with higher plant, animal, and microbe biodiversity. Fostering greater biodiversity is especially important because it increases natural processes like pollination and allows farming systems to better adapt to changing conditions. The U.S., which has historically rejected targets on organic agriculture, must move away from a short-term, profit-oriented mindset when it comes to agriculture, and move towards a system like that espoused in the Farm to Fork Strategy, one that can keep natural resources intact in the future for food generation. It should follow in the EU’s footsteps by encouraging organic farming that cuts back on the use of pesticides.

The EU’s limits on pesticides in food production not only help the environment but also its citizens. In particular, the EU’s actions to combat the usage of Glyphosate, the most widely used pesticide, are unprecedented. Glyphosate was patented by Monsanto in 1974 in the wake of shifts the Green Revolution caused in agricultural production methods. Since then, 9.4 million tons of it have been sprayed in fields across the globe despite its status as a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor as well as its positive correlation with chronic disease prevalence. The U.S., which has long been a major user of Glyphosate, claims that glyphosate is safe to use and allows it to be sold without warning labels. The U.S.’ refusal to promote organic agriculture, which bans the use of Glyphosate, represents its unwillingness to abandon the goals it prioritized during the Green Revolution- profit and efficiency.

 Today, it is of dire importance that America's food system be transformed into a system that can benefit the health of the environment and its citizens. The EU has taken a drastic step to modernize its agricultural practices, a step that has proven its commitment to reversing many of the practices motivated by the Green Revolution. It has shown its unwillingness to sacrifice quality in its food supply for greater quantities of agricultural output. Now, the U.S. needs to do the same.