Strategic Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture


This document is a Consumer Choice Center (CCC) position paper, in the context of the Strategic Dialogue on the Future of EU Agriculture, launched by the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen on January 25, 2024. In her opening speech at the EU Agri-Food Days, the President outlined the key questions that the Dialogue seeks answers to from key stakeholders, including consumer groups. As a consumer advocacy group involved in the dialogue over the future of agriculture in the European Union, the CCC thus provides input with what we see to be priorities for consumers in the years to come.

How can we give our farmers, and the rural communities they live in, a better perspective, including a fair standard of living?

The role of any food system, by virtue of its historic intent, is to serve the end consumer. Farmers, commodity traders, food processors, and retailers alike respond to the demand of consumers. As is common in economics, supply follows demand. However, in past years we have experienced a trend in policy-making that seeks to interfere in both the demand, and even more directly, in the supply side of the equation. For instance, subsequent policy strategies have sought to increase the role of the organic food sector, despite organic produce representing a mere fraction of the overall market. For consumers, it would not necessarily change much – ultimately they get to choose at retailers whether they prefer products derived from organic or conventional production. However, growers get caught in a gamble over steering policy of supply : if consumers do not buy the targeted amount of organic produce, growers will be left hanging, and price-intensive investments can bankrupt their businesses.

For consumers to get an accurate representation of their needs, we need farmers and retailers to stand on solid financial ground, and for them to respond to demand only. Increasing toolboxes for farmers to diversify their crops, crop protection, and seed variety, guarantees they can make the best decisions for their business. Interventions in the negotiations between farmers and retailers, through floor pricing, means that consumers will end up with higher food prices and lower supply. 

It is safe to say that consumers are rightfully confused over the real price of food. On the one hand, retailers fight for the lowest possible prices while maintaining realistic margins for themselves. Farmers fight for higher wholesale prices, but simultaneously are made dependent on direct payments through the Common Agricultural Policy, which increasingly also adopts steering policies. This system creates a lack of transparency, and distorts the reality of prices. The real price of a cucumber is no longer a question of what is displayed in a store, but of a multitude of layers of government intervention, many of which are co-financed by tax paying consumers. 

As the European Union, we should strive for a fair marketplace that considers fairness also for allied trade partners. The success of the Single Market needs to be extended with free trade policies that open our agricultural sector to fair competition from other markets and continents. This will not only improve Europe’s geopolitical and diplomatic standing with those countries, but also increase choice for consumers. We should allow European farmers to adapt to that reality by deregulating what we see as a currently overregulated profession.

How can we support agriculture within the boundaries of our planet and its ecosystem?

Before mentioning the impact of agriculture on global sustainability goals, it is adequate to recall the immense advancements the sector has made in the last decades. The world has reached peak agricultural land use in the early 2000s. This means that we produce more food with less overall resource input. With the help of modern machinery, best practices, genetic engineering in select jurisdictions, and crop protection, farmers have reduced the amount of land needed to feed a growing population. Stanford University researchers have found that if we farmed in the same manner as 60 years ago, an area equal to the entire land mass of Russia—three times the size of the Amazon, four times that of the European Union—would have to be cleared of forest and natural habitat and brought into agricultural production. 

As new technologies such as CRISPR Cas-9 become increasingly available in the agricultural field, even more advances to that end will be made, which is particularly in the interest of European and global biodiversity. 

The story of modern agriculture is impressive. It displays to what extent humanity is capable of overcoming the supposed limits to its own growth and development. Agricultural efficiency will continue to improve insofar as we allow for scientists, plant breeders and farmers to fully deploy their knowledge and skill in a way that benefits consumers and the environment alike.

To support agriculture in the current drive for environmental sustainability, we need to make Europe a beacon of tech innovation. In our modern world, farming looks very different to the ways it used to. A tractor is now not merely a vehicle, it is a computer system with monitors to increase efficiency in both resource and time use. When it comes to innovations in plant breeding, AI, and smart hardware tools, we need to allow for lower costs, by incentivising farmers and investors  through alleviated regulatory and tax burdens to make more innovation available. 

How can we make better use of the immense opportunities offered by knowledge and technological innovation?

While our technological standards have moved on, our regulatory processes have not. Political statements often far exceed what is feasible. We often hear that chemical crop protection chemicals ought to be phased out, or that genetic engineering needs to help us fight our sustainability challenges. That said, the regulatory approval procedures drag on, creating a lengthy and expensive process for manufacturers to comply with. Consumers in Europe are hurt by that red tape, as they access innovation more slowly than those in other jurisdictions. A smart regulatory approach first and foremost needs to invest into time efficiency. A stringent and lengthy approach means that only large corporations can afford compliance costs, leaving ambitious and ingenious European start-ups stranded or hoping to be acquired by larger companies. Both from a viewpoint of access to innovation, as well as from a viewpoint of economic development, this hurts the European food ecosystem.

As Consumer Choice Center, we are not worried that the drivers of innovation, as well as consumers as arbiters of market demand, will make choices that foster innovation. For that to happen, we need institutions that allow it to flourish.

How can we promote a bright and thriving future for Europe's food system in a competitive world?

Europe prides itself as a trendsetter in global food policy, but many policies have actively contradicted that ambition. The Farm to Fork strategy did not live up to its ambitions because it was not based in evidence-based policy-making, nor did it take into account the needs of farmers and consumers. We need a new approach that takes into account feasibility, purchasing power, trade, and decentralisation. 

Going forward, strategies in food policy ought to be internally tested before they are published, and follow what we call the AFOS approach:


No new policy should be presented if it would increase food prices for consumers



No new policy should be presented if there is no existing and non-subsidised feasible way of implementing it


No new policy should be presented that hinders European competitiveness and innovation


No new general policy should be presented if national and sub-national rules perform better

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