DeSmog

The False Claims on Food and Farming That May Sway EU Elections

DeSmog analysed misleading statements by farming groups, media influencers, and political candidates in France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Ireland.
Credit: Pete Reynolds

As EU citizens continue to head out in their millions to cast their votes, DeSmog has identified seven prominent falsehoods about green reforms to food and agriculture that have dominated election campaigning across the continent. 

The misinformation about food and farming – which has cropped up on social media, in speeches, and at protest rallies – could influence voters at this week’s polls and shape political negotiations in the next Parliament, new analysis from DeSmog shows. 

In the lead-up to the EU parliamentary elections, which will run until 9 June, political candidates, online influencers, and radical farming groups have used misleading claims to win votes, undermine opponents, and weaponise dissatisfaction with the EU.

Influential figures, including far-right MEPs, have spread the claims, which range from denying farming’s impact on climate change to spreading conspiracy theories about bugs, online, in media outlets and at election events in France, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. 

With up to 375 million citizens from the EU’s 27 member states heading to the ballots this weekend, the far-right is expected to make major gains – with potentially devastating ramifications for climate and nature.

Political parties have seen rural communities as the key battleground to win the eurosceptic vote – with right-wing, far-right and populist groups in particular placing farming at the centre of debate.

Earlier this year, farmers expressed frustration and anger at a number of EU policies. Groups blocked highways across the continent to protest against low prices at the farm gate, cheap imports, and the perceived high administrative burden from climate laws and other proposed green regulations.

These genuine farming realities and concerns have been distorted, using everything from subtle half truths to downright outlandish conspiracy theories, which also ignore the science on what must be done to protect nature and bring global heating under control. 

The EU’s climate laws have come under sustained attack since 2021. They include the EU’s nature-friendly farming package “Farm to Fork”, which aims to address industrial farming’s high emissions and protect bird and bee populations, which are plummeting due to pesticide use and habitat loss.

This flood of misinformation has placed farming laws at the centre of a climate culture war, DeSmog researchers found. Far-right election hopefuls in Spain and France accuse the EU of “betraying Europeans with their policies inspired in globalism and radical ecologism”, “killing the farming sector” and imposing rules that “are linked to degrowth” and that “will cause an increase in our bills”. 

Academic and ecologist Guy Pe’er reported that fake news had already undermined vital climate measures – despite widespread support for environmental change among scientists, citizens, and many in the farming sector

“Farms do face many challenges, but there is a huge amount of misinformation about what the solutions are,” said Pe’er, who works at Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the Department of Ecosystem Services in the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). 

The survival of agriculture into the future hinges on a shift to sustainable farming, Pe’er said. 

“Winning the elections is not just a game, they are playing here with the futures and lives of all of us.”

Below DeSmog has distilled a selection of seven of the most persistent narratives to have taken root, gathered from seven countries across Europe. 

1. Green laws make people go hungry 

Spotted in: Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Germany, Brussels

Spread by: Political parties, MEP candidates, farming groups

In a video featuring rousing music and heroic shots of tractors posted on X in late May, radical protest groups called up European farmers to come to Brussels to demonstrate against “the decisions” of the bloc’s politicians, days before the elections. 

The video featured leaders of hardline farming groups from seven EU countries, four of whom suggested that European food security was at stake if farmers didn’t show up. “We ensure that Europeans don’t lack food”, said Szczepan Wojcik, a millionaire ex-fur producer, who spearheads a powerful agricultural think tank in Poland.

The narrative that current EU policies are endangering Europeans’ nutrition is widespread. 

In February, in a post viewed on X over 185,000 times, Thierry Baudet of the Dutch far-right fringe party, Forum voor Democratie, claimed that “mass-immigration, the absurd climate plans and the obsession with vegetarian and insect burgers” jeopardised European food security.

Caroline van der Plas from the populist Dutch party Farmers-Citizen Movement (BBB) kickstarted its campaign for the EU elections by suggesting that food production is endangered by “unachievable and unaffordable climate targets”. 

These claims ignore the facts. Scientists have repeatedly pointed out that the biggest threats to food production in Europe and the rest of the world are climate change and biodiversity collapse.

An investigation into European food security, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, showed that food security on the continent is not at risk, despite facing many challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. 

The narrative isn’t new: In recent years, agribusiness lobby groups and right-wing political parties opposing environmental laws have repeatedly used it.

Multiple parties have used the narrative in the run-up to the ballot. In May, for example, the European Conservatives and Reformists group, which is expected to win 76 seats in the elections, organised an event with some of the far-right’s leading politicians on “defending European food sovereignty”. One of the two panels discussed the need to “ensure food security for future generations”, in light of “costly and unrealistic challenges” from “environmental demands”.  

2. The EU is forcing farmers off their land

Spotted in: Germany, the Netherlands, Brussels

Spread by: Political parties, MEP candidates, farming groups 

In the year before the elections, politicians suggested that EU climate laws will force farmers off their land, with misleading claims particularly focusing around the Nature Restoration Law, the EU’s plan to repair damaged ecosystems across the continent. 

The European People’s Party (EPP), Europe’s largest political group, was among those making misleading claims. Amid attempts to pitch itself as the “farmers’ party” ahead of the EU vote, the EPP campaigned against the law, repeatedly warning that it included plans to “reduc[e] productive land, forest and sea areas by a staggering 10%”, which would devastate farmers. Last year, more than 6,000 scientists rejected the claim as “erroneous”.

Since then, a far-right politician in Poland, the populist party Independent Ireland, and an anti-vaxx MEP from Croatia have all suggested that the law will force farmers to renature or give up their land. In a speech in the European Parliament in February – shared by Spanish influencers and the English-language Wide Awake Media – Croatian MEP Mislav Kolakušić claimed “the only goal of this law is the confiscation of private property”.

Similar statements have also been made in Italy. Francesco Lollobrigida, Minister of Agriculture from Fratelli d’Italia, criticised the EU’s “crazy” policies, claiming they forced farmers to “reduce production and cultivated land in exchange for increasingly lower subsidies”. 

MEP Silvia Sardone from Lega told the European Parliament that Europe has “punished farmers for years”, making them “leave their lands fallow”. Meanwhile, the conspiracy media outlet ByoBlu published a report claiming that Italy is beginning “to stop agricultural production as the EU wants”.

This narrative plays on genuine difficulties faced by the farming sector: Between 2005 and 2020, the number of European farms declined by over 35 percent. But scientists are clear that nature-friendly laws are vital for the future viability of the sector, with climate change and biodiversity loss among the greatest threats to farms today.

Nonetheless, the claim that the EU is forcing farmers off their land has an even more sinister sister. First emerging in the Netherlands during widespread farming protests in 2019, this claim states that governments are trying to steal farmers’ land to house asylum seekers – and using environmental regulations to do so.

The conspiracy theory has since crossed borders. During widespread farmer protests in January, for example, Anthony Lee – an MEP candidate for Germany’s radical right party Freie Wähler and a spokesperson for the hardline farming group Landwirtschaft verbindet Deutschland (LsV), claimed during an interview: “They want our land. … They want our land to build industry, houses, I don’t know, for refugees, whoever, I don’t care for what”. 

Radical farming groups including LsV protested in Brussels earlier this week in an effort to influence the ballot, citing climate regulations, “land grabs” and “violations of property rights” among their concerns. 

3. Farmers are being scapegoated for the climate crisis 

Spotted in: France, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Brussels

Spread by: Political parties, MEP candidates, political think tanks, farm lobbies, farming groups

Farming groups and MEP candidates alike have been keen to downplay the impact of agriculture on the environment and frame it as the unfair target of overzealous climate legislation. 

Earlier this week, Pedro Narro, an EU election candidate with the Spanish far-right party Vox, claimed in an interview with @Tomy_Rohde, a farmer influencer who has nearly 55,000 followers on X, that, “There is a narrative that farmers are the enemy of the environment, that farmers pollute. We had fought this narrative back”. 

“The farmer’s not the problem at all,” echoed Michael Collins, leader of the right-wing party Independent Ireland, in a video posted on X promoting the party’s election campaign. 

In reality, agriculture is responsible for approximately 11 percent of emissions in the EU, and has been linked to drastic declines in bumble bees and other wild pollinators. 

Scientists are clear that farming must transition, along with other sectors. This month, 20 European institutions signed an open letter stating that sustainable farming laws are vital to address “multiple crises” and the “breaching of planetary boundaries”. 

Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, last June a researcher with Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies – the think tank for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) – published an op-ed in media outlet Politico titled, “EU will regret making farmers scapegoats for climate change”. The article claimed, “Farmers are being hung out to dry on the altar of the EU’s climate ambitions” – and it coincided with efforts by the EPP to rebrand itself as the “farmers’ party”. 

Eleftheria Katsi, a spokesperson for the think tank, said the article “acknowledges the challenge of climate change and the positive role of farmers in meeting that challenge”. She said they called for “greater political realism” when it comes to setting targets for reducing agricultural emissions.

Pedro Lopez, a spokesperson for the EPP, said the party was not responsible for anything published by Martens Centre, adding: “Many times they contain texts publish[ed] by other people that do not engage the opinion of the Martens Centre, and even less of the EPP Group”. 

At its most extreme, politicians have even framed criticisms of farmers as a purposeful effort by European elites to undermine the sector. Marine le Pen, leader of France’s far-right Reassemblement National, stated at the party’s EU election launch in March, “The mistreatment of farmers is not an accident, but the result of an effort to blame them, to weaken them, and to crush them”.

Italian politicians from the far-right parties Lega and Fratelli d’Italia have accused the EU of waging a war against farmers, wrongly blaming them for contributing to the climate crisis. 

In a video published last week on Instagram, MEP Silvia Sardone from Lega argued, “the European agro-food sector cannot be destroyed by the ideological follies of the left” and the EU is attacking Italian agriculture under “the excuse of environmental sustainability”.

Francesco Lollobrigida, minister of agriculture from Fratelli d’Italia, has also shared similar views. In January, he claimed that “the EU penalizes agriculture” and that “farmers are the first environmentalists”.

3. Ukrainian food imports are harmful to health 

Spotted in: Poland, Italy, Spain

Spread by: Farming groups, online influencers, far-right

Politicians, farmers, and online commentators in Poland are exploiting widespread concerns about Ukrainian food imports to spread disinformation and anti-Ukrainian sentiments. 

The EU lifted tariffs on Ukrainian grain imports in June 2022 to help boost the country’s struggling economy following Russia’s invasion. However, logistical issues initially prevented producers from transporting imports beyond bordering countries, so they flooded local economies and undercut local production. 

The issue has sparked multiple protests over the past 18 months, with populist and hard-right parties weaponizing the discontent to spread anti-Ukrainian narratives.

In Poland, the far-right Confederation party has been calling for an immediate embargo on Ukrainian agricultural products. Jumping on the bandwagon, Confederation MP and EU parliament candidate, Ryszard Wilk, in February inspected a grain cargo train on the Polish-Ukrainian border in Medyka.

“Do you know why they didn’t show us the receipts, the Customs and Tax Services? Because they know exactly what’s inside these containers: a death sentence for Polish farmers!” Wilk said in a video posted on the social media platform X. “We’re taking a sample, to see what kind of shit this is. [Shit] because of which Polish families go bankrupt and are forced to go to Germany to pick strawberries.”

Poland, along with some other Eastern European countries, banned Ukrainian grain imports in 2023 – to help ensure they returned to normal levels, according to Business Insider. 

After a Ukrainian nonprofit included the MP and co-leader of Confederation Krzysztof Bosak on the list of “enemies of Ukraine” saying the politician propagates a pro-Kremlin narrative and participates in “acts of humanitarian aggression against Ukraine”, the party retaliated by spreading disinformation.

In February, Rafal Mekler, who’s running in this weekend’s EU elections for the far-right National Movement, a member of the Confederation alliance, wrote on X that Ukrainians put Bosak “on the list of people to be murdered”. 

The Confederation has backed the farmers’ protests since they first kicked off. Having centred their EU parliamentary campaign on attacking the EU’s climate reforms and propagating anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, the party is expected to make significant gains this weekend. 

One influencer spreading this false narrative is Mariusz Borowiak, an unofficial spokesperson for a radical farming group known as Orka, who has ties to the far-right and is protesting the EU Green Deal.

In an April interview with TV Republika, a right-wing broadcaster often considered a mouthpiece for the country’s populist Law and Justice Party, Borowiak asked, “Who is the government if it brings contaminated, untested food into the country? Isn’t this a kind of terrorism and killing of Polish citizens?”

Orka won support from the Polish president in May, after the group was catapulted to recognition with backing from Law and Justice politicians running in the EU elections and the hard-right Confederation Party.

A variation of this narrative has also cropped up in Spain. Leader of far-right Vox for the European elections, Jorge Buxade, posted a video on TikTok in March 2024, in which he claimed that Europe was allowing fruits and vegetables in the country, “which we don’t know if they have been watered with sewage water or water from a nuclear reactor”.

The theory that Ukrainian grain is poisonous has also made its way to Italy via Poland. In February, a video appeared on Facebook featuring dead birds along Polish railway tracks, where Ukrainian grains had allegedly been transported.

“Ukrainian grain KILLS…! It kills Polish birds, it kills Polish agriculture and it will also KILL Polish consumers!” the video description read

Posted by Stany.blog.pl, a Polish blog known for supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was viewed nearly half a million times. 

A few days later, a Twitter account with thousands of followers, known for spreading pro-Russian content in Italian, shared the video, which was retweeted over 100 times and viewed by over 4,000 users.

In March, it was shared on Facebook by the far-right party Vox Italia, founded by the far-right commentator Diego Fusaro, and inspired by Vox Spain.

5. The EU will make you eat bugs 

Spotted in: Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands

Spread by: Far-right politicians, radical farming groups

“Our European technocratic leaders – who are never out of ideas – have the solution: Eat insects!” That’s according to far-right leader Marine le Pen, leader of France’s Rassemblement National, during the party’s election campaign launch in March. 

The claim appears to refer to a particularly strange narrative that has spread across the EU in recent years: The EU will make you eat insects in the name of climate laws. In the run-up to the EU elections, the conspiracy theory has been used by fringe, right-wing election candidates and farming groups hoping to win support. 

In Italy, the radical-right party Lega per Salvini Premier sponsored billboards featuring a man eating a huge cricket, and the words, “Let’s Change Europe before it changes us”, as part of its election campaign. In the Netherlands, blue banners advertising radical eurosceptic farming protests ahead of the elections also sported the image of a cricket on the end of a fork alongside the motto, “VoteThemAway”. 

This conspiracy theory is nothing new. It first emerged in the 2010s, when users of far-right forums like 4Chan began making memes about a series of UN reports on eating edible insects to possibly improve food security, according to a 2023 investigation by U.S. media outlet NPR. Since then, the theory has become a symbol that elite forces, including the UN, the World Economic Forum, and the EU want people to eat bugs, all under the pretence of supposed climate action. 

While some scientists have suggested that insects could be a useful source of low-carbon protein, EU policies frame them more as an alternative for soy and other protein sources in animal feed. According to the EU protein strategy, insect consumption is limited in diets “for cultural reasons” but it has an increasingly important role in animal nutrition, especially aquaculture. Europe has approved four types of insects for human consumption, and eight for use in animal feed

The narrative nonetheless became popular in European countries with large meat industries such as in Poland after 2021, when the EU first approved some insects for human consumption. It also has appeared in chants among Polish farmers protesting the EU Green Deal. 

Researchers were most surprised to see the narrative emerge in Germany, where it was referenced in videos by Freie Bauern, a fringe family farming association that has described itself as fighting “eco terrorism”.

6. Only elites will eat meat

Spotted in: Spain, Poland, Italy

Spread by: Hard-right politicians

A prevalent narrative says that lab-grown meat will be fed to poor people in the name of climate action, while rich people will keep the privilege of eating real meat. 

This narrative first emerged in Spain in 2021, as part of a backlash against a video of the country’s then-Minister of Consumer Affairs, Alberto Garzón, suggesting that Spaniards should consume less meat due to its environmental impacts. 

The far-right party Vox revived this narrative in the run-up to the EU elections. During a major conference involving prominent far-right leaders from Europe and some Latin American countries in Madrid in May, Vox leader, Santiago Abascal claimed

“They [socialists and populists] obey the whims of billionaire speculators who dream of a world government in which everything is decided by them, from flying everywhere on a private jet, while they forbid it from us, from prohibiting us from eating steaks, which they do eat, to force us to eat synthetic meat…”

The idea that lab-created foods, such as cultivated meat, pose a threat to agriculture is one of the most widespread agricultural conspiracy theories in Italy. 

Over the past year, the Lega party has focused much of its political messaging on attacking the EU’s efforts to find sustainable and alternative protein sources to meat. This narrative has been used repeatedly by MEP Silvia Sardone of Lega, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s minister of transport and Lega leader, and Francesco Lollobrigida, minister of agriculture and a member of the far-right party, Fratelli d’Italia.

Moreover, the national far-right newspaper, Libero, which is closely aligned with Lega and Fratelli d’Italia, has shared the theory that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are behind a plan to provide “real food only to the rich”, forcing ordinary people to consume plant-based proteins like Beyond Meat or lab-grown meat.

According to Libero, Gates and Zuckerberg are buying land to produce “high-quality meat for the wealthy”, who can afford “two-hundred-dollar-per-kilo steaks”, while Beyond Meat and lab-grown meat will be used to “feed the poor”. This, they claim, supports an “environmentalist crusade against intensive farming”.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Fratelli d’Italia echoed this narrative during COP28, asserting that there is a plan leading European countries “towards a world where only the rich can eat natural food”.

7. The Green Deal will drain our wallets

Spotted in: Poland, Spain

Spread by: Hard-right politicians, radical farming groups

For months Poland’s populist and hard-right politicians have been lambasting EU climate reforms, turning up the heat in the leadup to this week’s ballot. Candidates for the EU parliament representing the far-right Confederation party, which is predicted to come in third in the country, claim that “the Green Deal will finish off Polish agriculture” and will “drain Poles’ wallets”. 

This narrative is also common in Spain. In February, when thousands of farmers took to the streets to protest EU policies, far-right party Vox issued an official communication that referred to the Green Deal as an “ideological imposition” resulting in the “increasing impoverishment of our neighbours, especially workers in the primary sector and their families”. 

In recent weeks, Vox’s candidates have referred to the Green Deal as a “massive layoff plan” for farmers and the “ruin for the rural areas”. Vox’s first candidate, Jorge Buxadé, echoed this sentiment in the European Parliament on February 6: “You want us poor and defeated. But things are going to change. Throughout Europe, a single cry is heard: repeal the Green Deal and put socialist and popular politicians to follow.”

Right-wing politicians in Italy are also using this narrative. Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega and Minister of Transport, argued on X that European regulations like the Green Deal are too costly and impoverish Europe, asserting that “environmentalism is a luxury only the rich can afford”.

The individuals and parties referenced in this article were contacted for comment, and had not responded prior to publication.

Experts point out that those who defend the “average man” from the future costs associated with climate reforms leave out the fact that citizens around the world will have to pay for not addressing the ongoing climate crisis. 

The effects of volatile and unpredictable weather patterns will raise food prices and the cost of living year on year, according to researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“[T]he 2022 extreme summer heat increased food inflation in Europe by 0.43-0.93 percentage-points which warming projected for 2035 would amplify by 30-50%,” they wrote in a paper published in March. 

The European Environment Agency has also warned that “climate change affects all Europeans, but vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, children, low-income groups, and people with health problems or disabilities, are the most affected”. 

Editing by Hazel Healy and Diane Bernard.

Additional research and reporting by Phoebe Cooke, Michaela Herrmann and Brigitte Wear.

Clare Carlile headshot cropped
Clare is a Researcher at DeSmog, focusing on the agribusiness sector. Prior to joining the organisation in July 2022, she was Co-Editor and Researcher at Ethical Consumer Magazine, where she specialised in migrant workers’ rights in the food industry. Her work has been published in The Guardian and New Internationalist.
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marta
Marta is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker focused on human rights and environmental issues in Europe and Southeast Asia. After a decade in Cambodia, she's recently relocated to Poland.
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