Vestager’s digital age vision threatens a “dystopian future for farming”

19 February 2020

Europe's farmers face a "dystopian future" if the EU fails to regulate digital technologies used in agriculture, claims Friends of the Earth Europe in a new report. The call comes as the European Commission's digital chief Margrethe Vestager launches a communication today on the future of the digital age - but which is unlikely to recommend any rules to govern the fast-developing digitalisation of farming. 

Corporate-driven digital and artificial intelligence tools in agriculture threaten to turn farmers into 'data harvesters' dependent on agribusiness and tech corporations, and further industrialise the countryside if left unregulated, according to the new briefing. This would spell disaster for farming, the protection of natural resources and biodiversity, and ultimately for our landscapes and the food we eat.

Mute Schimpf, food campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "We are watching an agricultural digital arms race where the winner will dominate and control our food, countryside, and the farmers that feed us. Unless regulation is brought in, farmers face a dystopian future, abandoned to giant corporations who seek to gain unprecedented control over Europe's fields. This is an avoidable crisis, and the EU must pass tough laws to protect farmers to prevent it."

The report highlights that:

  • The fast-developing digitalisation of agriculture is being driven by profit and the availability of technologies and tools, rather than addressing real needs to cut pollution, protect nature and support rural communities
  • Both the EU Commission and EU Parliament have previously acknowledged that the lack of data laws in agriculture could give increased power to agribusiness and tech corporations [3]
  • Without political intervention a few global corporations will be able to collect, analyse, and monetise farm data, while consolidating their dominance in the farm and food chain
  • Key players in the market have a long record of pushing nature-wrecking industrial agriculture in the EU, including Bayer/Monsanto, Syngenta/ChemChina, Corteva (Dow, Dupont, Pioneer) and BASF. They are now being joined by traditional tech giants including Sony, Philips, Orange, Uber, Bosch, Siemens, Google and Microsoft
  • The EU must develop high standards guaranteeing farmers' rights to their data, similar to existing legislation protecting personal data

Mute Schimpf continued: "The tech boom in agriculture could benefit sustainable and small-scale farmers and support the expansion of agroecology, but this can only happen if farm data and technology is regulated by the EU and controlled by the farmers that collect and use it, rather than multinational corporations."