F2F: Nutrition as prevention

Why the EU must also think about food policy

By Fiorello Cortiana 

The preservation of biodiversity – and the environment in general – must become a primary interest of the public as well as the private sector; Covid-19 reminds us of this. A look at the new European food strategy Farm2Fork, and a list of priorities.

The Coronavirus delayed the launch of the European Union’s new food policy by two months, but it was worth it. F2F, the Farm 2 Fork strategy, has a central function in the ten chapters of the ‘Growth Strategy for Europe’, the European Green Deal, presented by the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen, with 40% of the EU budget to be dedicated to climate action. A good sign in the ‘Super Year for Nature and Biodiversity’ according to the UN Secretary General. 2020 is also the deadline for countries to set out their plans to meet the targets set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. F2F has the declared intention of promoting agroecology, the multifunctionality of the agri-food chain in full sustainability for health, the environment and local dignity. We are talking about a supply chain that is today responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions, Greenhouse Gases-GHG, consumption of non-renewable natural resources, impact on public health with widespread over- and under-nutrition, and unfair remuneration for primary producers.

Putting sustainability at the centre therefore means enabling new rights, new professional and entrepreneurial opportunities, environmental and social qualification. F2F intends to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable model for the agri-food chain: with a neutral or upgrading environmental impact, with the mitigation of climate change and the adaptation to its effects, with the reversal of the biodiversity game, with the assurance of access to food that is sufficient, safe, not wasted, nutritious and sustainable, with guarantees for the remuneration and competitiveness of the European distribution sector and fair trade, with a benefit for all actors: researchers, producers, distributors, consumers. Generational change, landscape, biodiversity, health, dignity and fair pay for work, climate action, the liveability of rural areas, energy quality and supply chain guarantees will also be the basis for the strategy of the next CAP – Common Agricultural Policy. The relationship between F2F and the CAP is ambitious.  Fair remuneration and affordable end prices means accountability and transparency in the value chain along the supply chain avoiding possibilities for equivocal interpretations, which are useful to respect the form without changing either the process or the product but reducing the effectiveness of implementation.

The European Commission proposes to support this transition through the common agricultural and fisheries policies of regulation and non-regulation. With important innovations accompanied by obvious contradictions, in fishing, for example, 30% of the aid will go to the mechanical industry to reduce emissions from the engines of European fishing vessels. Instead, nothing will go to safeguarding and regenerating fish stocks, which are threatened and reduced every year by catch quotas that are disproportionate to biological regeneration times. European support also means advice, financial instruments, research and innovation. In the agri-food sector, it will therefore be necessary to recognise the necessary support for the transition to organic farming of both latifundia and small farmers’ plots, which means recognising and enabling the exercise of agro-ecological functions, with the implications of restoring and safeguarding the environment and landscape, as well as public health. One need only think of the impacts of the cocktail of pesticides in the fields and antibiotics on livestock, with the consequent spread of resistance to the latter in the population. For this reason, the Commission will propose a specific legislative framework to support the implementation of a sustainable food policy.

Here it will be important for innovation to be based on the precautionary principle, so that developments in spraying as well as mechanical action to weed without balance become important items to liberalise GMOs. To support the global dimension of the sustainable transition of the agri-food system, the European Union will also activate its trade policies and international cooperation instruments. Here, the action of control and repression of fraud is accompanied by the transparency of product labels: food quality, environmental quality, dignity of labour. This, within a global action for sustainability, means guarantees of transparency and quality also for international supply chains, from child and slave labour to the use of GMO seeds, rather than deforestation for intensive/extensive farming. The above immediately relates to urban areas and the quality of life of their inhabitants. Milan is second only to Rome as an agricultural city, while as a Metropolitan City it holds the absolute record, presided over by the most significant agricultural belt park in Europe.

In this context, the question of biodiversity conservation in Milan is not out of place. It performs two crucial functions in terms of environmental quality: a conservationist function, both for the protection of animal and plant species, and in terms of landscape thanks to the Parco Agricolo Sud Milano. A cultural function, so that citizens are aware of the necessary alliance between the biological and anthropological spheres of the mind-body-nature relationship. This is where there is a relationship of enjoyment and knowledge of this extraordinary nature reserve with its cultural and cultivation resources. Because of the critical nature of its environmental condition, from soil consumption and the consequent sealing to atmospheric emissions and the widespread respiratory diseases of its inhabitants, it makes sense to raise the issue of biodiversity conservation in the Milanese urban area. Particularly where regional biodiversity conservation policies have neglected the urban environment. This is a potentially fatal mistake because cities play a priority role among ecosystems due to the number of people living in them and because the United Nations predicts that by mid-century 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.

Instead of fatally witnessing this drift, it is instead a question of reversing the direction of urban development over the last 150 years. Instead of penetrating the countryside along the main roads, we need to return to seeing the waterways of the Navigli and the agricultural fields that border the suburbs and the municipalities in the first belt of Milan as ecological corridors that enter the city and can rebalance and redefine it. After all, Cesano Boscone, a municipality in the southern part of the park, owes its name to the oak woods that used to cover the plain, even if today few of its school children know that there are fully functioning farmsteads just a few metres from their homes. We have the need, which must become ambition, to transform urban nodes from energy-intensive degeneration and generators of social marginality and waste, creators of suburbs near and far, into a centre of new urbanism capable of redevelopment and regeneration of sustainability and beauty. The generation, connection and care of green spaces within the urban territory is a useful biodiversity reserve, also because green areas filter atmospheric pollution deriving from transport, heating and industry, produce oxygen, muffle noise and make even the least architecturally qualified urban landscape pleasant.

The crux of the conflict for change is here, because this is where the common sense of collective action is generated, where local and national elected offices are produced. How many people know that there are 300 Natura 2000 sites in or near cities? Cultivating and proposing a vision capable of seeing the possible and desirable relationship between agricultural multifunctionality and the built environment is already the reason behind significant experiences of active citizenship: the gardeners of Piazza d’Armi, rather than the citizens who animate the Drop in Farini or, again in Farini, appeal to the Regional Administrative Court and the Council of State against the agreement to sell off a public asset such as the former railway station. In an economy of knowledge, in place of the ‘factory city’ and a qualitative territorial system one of the conditions of attractiveness and value generation. WWF, Italia Nostra, Legambiente, and the Lombardy Region have proposed a Manifesto for the post-Coronavirus period, in order to “restore a balanced relationship of reciprocity between the environment and mankind” and to “support a wide-ranging territorial maintenance project that places the quality of the Lombardy landscape as a major cultural infrastructure capable of driving forward a far-sighted economic recovery”. 

After all, the popular initiative law for the establishment of the Parco Agricolo Sud Milano started out that way, from visionaries like the grassroots citizen group ‘Ecologia 15’ and the RAL of Lacchiarella.