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With its Green Deal, the European Union is aiming to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. In order to achieve this, the economy must become circular (waste is a raw material) and biodiversity must be protected, among other things. But the food system also plays a crucial role.
It must be possible to produce healthy food in a sustainable manner that respects the planet's limits, while guaranteeing a fair wage for all workers in the food chain. At the same time, this food must remain affordable for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic also demonstrated that we need a robust and resilient food system that can remain functional in times of crisis.
In its “Farm to Fork” strategy, the European Commission has elaborated upon how it aims to achieve this goal. We will present the main points here.
The use and risk of chemical pesticides should be reduced by 50% by 2030. © Shutterstock
Sustainable food production
- Farmers, fishermen and fish farmers should make optimum use of nature-based solutions on the one hand and state-of-the-art technology on the other (digital solutions, concepts from space travel, etc.).
- Instead of disrupting the climate, farmers and foresters can combat climate change. For example, by fermenting methane instead of emitting it and by fitting solar panels on stables. If they can capture carbon, they should be paid for that.
- The use and risk of chemical pesticides should be reduced by 50% by 2030. One way of doing this is to pursue Integrated Pest Management, an approach that makes optimum use of nature (natural enemies, healthy soil, etc.) in order to limit the quantities of pesticides.
- Conventional farming makes much use of (artificial) fertilisers, but only a fraction of the nutrients are actually absorbed by the plants. The remainder of the nutrients pollutes the soil, water and air. The EC aims to reduce the nutrient loss by 50% and use at least 20% fewer fertilisers by 2030, while maintaining soil fertility.
- Excessive use of antibiotics makes some micro-organisms resistant. This kills 33,000 people annually in the EU. This is why the EC is aiming to reduce the sales of antibiotics for farm animals and fish farming by 50% by 2030.
- Organic farming has a positive influence on biodiversity, creates jobs and attracts young farmers. The EC therefore wants at least 25% of farmland in the EU to be used for organic farming by 2030, while organic fish farming must grow too. Agro-ecology and agro-forestry (agriculture + trees) will receive greater support.
- Fisheries and the farming of fish, shellfish and crustaceans should switch to sustainable practices. Fewer by-catches should be thrown back. The EC aims to focus more on algae, a promising alternative source of protein.
- The animal sector accounts for 70% of the total emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture. This particularly concerns methane and nitrous oxide. The EC aims to limit the harmful impact of animal production, including through additives to animal feed that will reduce gas emissions from farm animals. The EC also aims to promote the self-cultivation of plant-based proteins and pursue alternative types of feed, such as insects, algae and fish offal. This should lead to reduced imports of soya, which are responsible for deforestation outside the EU.
The EC aims to limit the harmful impact of animal production. © Shutterstock
Sustainable food chain
It is self-evident that not only the producers, but in fact the entire chain “from farm to fork” needs to switch to sustainable practices: foodstuff processors, wholesale, retail, hospitality and catering. These could be environmentally-friendly, reusable or recyclable packaging, energy-efficiency or a lower ecological footprint.
Promoting consumption of healthy and sustainable food
EU citizens are still consuming too much red meat, sugars, fats and salt. This leads to an epidemic of obesity, as well as conditions like cardiovascular disorders and cancer. The consumption of wholemeal grains, vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts remains below par. The EC aims to put this right through clear labelling on nutritional value, as well as on the climate-related, environmental and social effects of foodstuffs.
The EC wants EU citizens to eat more vegetables, fruit, whole grain cereals, legumes and nuts. © Shutterstock
Combatting food waste
Far too much valuable food still goes to waste. This is why the EC aims to halve food waste among consumers and in retail by 2050.
Gaining further knowledge and international advocacy
In order to make the transition possible, the EC is providing 10 billion euros for research and innovation. The necessary investments will not go amiss either. As the largest importer and exporter of agri-foodstuffs, the EU aims to help support the worldwide transition to sustainable agri-food systems. In international forums, such as the Nutrition for Growth summit and the UN summit on food systems in 2021, it accordingly intends to be highly vocal about this too.
The EC is calling upon the European Parliament and the Member States in the Council to approve the “from farm to fork” strategy. It is also inviting all citizens and stakeholders to take part in a broad discussion on a sustainable food policy.