The new EU strategy "From farm to fork": What will soon change for the food industry
Aug. 4 2020
At the end of May, the European Union presented its new food concept, thus laying the foundation for the EU Commission's ambitious goal of making Europe's food supply a global sustainability leader. We take a look at the key implications for actors along the food chain - and how the policy is being put into practice.
Reduction of the ecological footprint. Ensure food security. Ensure access to sustainable, healthy and affordable food for all. The EU's ambitions for the food system, as set out in its long-awaited strategy "From Farm to Fork", imply a widespread change in the way food is produced and sold. The strategy is a central pillar of the European Green Deal, a strategy to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
The proposals are broad and detailed and include 27 measures in areas ranging from organic and biodiversity to carbon sequestration and the development of biorefineries. They cover the entire food value chain, from the types of animal feed available to producers to consumer awareness of the expiry dates on packaging. "From Farm to Fork" is supplemented by recommendations for action for the concrete implementation of the strategy - both on the political and financial level and on the corporate side.
A STRATEGY STRUCTURED AROUND AMBITIOUS OBJECTIVES
The measures of the EU "Farm to Fork" strategy are underpinned by concrete targets up to 2030. These form the basis for the strategic plans of the member states and for data collection by actors throughout the food chain.
Pesticides: Reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% and the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50%.
Surplus of nutrients: Reduce nutrient losses by at least 50% while ensuring that soil fertility does not decline and reduce fertiliser use by at least 20%.
Resistance to antimicrobial agents: Reduce EU sales of antimicrobial agents for farm animals and use in aquaculture by 50%.
Organic farming: 25 % of the EU's agricultural area should be organic
Waste: Reduce food waste at retail and consumer level by 50%.
In addition to these food-specific targets, an overall climate target will also have an impact on the food industry: a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% is aimed for.1
MORE INCENTIVES FOR SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES
The strategy recognises the considerable efforts made so far by the food industry. It aims to make them the norm through mechanisms such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), new "eco-regulations" and existing instruments such as the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Several examples of initiatives that could be rewarded under the CAP in the future are given. These include agricultural practices that filter CO2 from the atmosphere and the installation of solar panels on the roofs of farm buildings. Measures that reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers are also covered by the CAP. A further 10 billion euros are earmarked for research and development.
Food producers, processors and retailers are likely to welcome any financial support the EU can provide. However, the EU executive is well aware that funding is only one part of the equation. Rather, the practical implementation is at stake: In the past, bureaucracy has hindered some of the food industry's best efforts at innovation.
The EU intends to address this problem by placing on the market sustainable and innovative feed additives that help reduce methane emissions from livestock production. To protect the safety and diversity of seeds, it will also facilitate the registration of new seed varieties, sometimes for organic farming, and ensure easier market access for traditional and locally adapted varieties.
THREAT OF REGULATION?
While it is important to recognise that the Farm to Fork strategy is more of a vision than a regulation, its authors make no secret of their intentions. A legislative framework for a sustainable food system is planned for 2023 and other policy initiatives are planned, including an action plan for organic farming and legislation on disposable food packaging.
On certain issues, the Commission stated that it would monitor the implementation of the recommendations for action and, if necessary, adopt legislation. A key area of the strategy addresses the sales and marketing practices of food processors and retailers: under the EU Code of Conduct for Responsible Entrepreneurship, food companies are expected, on the one hand, to produce their products in line with the guidelines for healthy, sustainable eating and to reduce packaging materials. On the other hand, companies are required to adapt their marketing strategies to ensure the protection of people in need and to promote adequate public awareness of the relevance of food through their food price campaigns (a specific example is the avoidance of low price campaigns for meat).
DIGITALISATION AS A CATALYST
If sustainability is the main theme of the "farm to fork" strategy, the second leading trend of the 21st century runs through almost every political action. Digital technology serves as a catalyst that allows the food system to be transformed and the implementation process to be monitored in a way that would not have been possible 20 years ago. For example, the recent CAP aims to help farmers improve their environmental performance through better use of data and analysis and investment in digital technology.
For this reason, the "Farm to Fork" strategy is explicitly linked to the goal of accelerating the introduction of fast broadband Internet in rural areas. The aim is to make precision farming and the use of artificial intelligence mainstream, reduce costs for farmers and facilitate soil and water management.
Data is at the heart of the digital strategy. The EU will introduce legislation to transform its Farm Accountancy Data Network into the Farm Sustainability Network to collect data on the objectives of the "From Farm to Work" and "Biodiversity" strategies. Existing programmes2 aim to reduce investment risk and establish sustainable practices in fisheries and aquaculture.
THE RELEVANCE OF LABELLING
The Commission is also exploring new digital ways of providing food information to consumers. This is part of another important aspect of the strategy: strengthening consumer autonomy by providing accurate, harmonised and verifiable information through labelling and certification.
Labelling and certification play a central role in several actions of the strategy. As part of its commitment to improving animal welfare through the revision of legislation, the Commission will examine options for animal welfare labelling and implement harmonised mandatory nutritional labelling on the front of packaging.
HIGH ECONOMIC POTENTIAL
With the presentation of its Farm-to-Fork strategy, the EU also wants to underline the economic opportunity it represents. As the world's largest importer and exporter of agri-food products and the largest seafood market in the world, the EU estimates the economic value of its vision of modern food systems at over 1.8 trillion euros.
Many food manufacturers, processors and retailers have already made great strides in terms of sustainability. "From farm to work" will make a significant 'contribution to unifying the underlying competitive conditions. Others will have further catching up to do, albeit with potential access to finance and technical assistance. For all, concrete ways of measuring, documenting and demonstrating progress will be essential if they are to meet future regulatory requirements and seize new opportunities.
Bureau Veritas offers a range of services to help food industry operators achieve their objectives (training, audit and certification, laboratory testing, harvest inspections). Our Circular+ solution package supports the transition to a circular economy business model and can help you measure your individual progress against defined sustainability targets.
 Compared to 1990 levels, a target of 50% or 55% will be adopted in December 2020.
 Copernicus // European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODnet)