When Ursula von der Leyen launched the Commission’s Green Deal ambition just over a year ago, none of us could have predicted the devastating events that would follow as Covid-19 swept across the globe, knocking us all off course.
Looking to 2021, our industry remains as dedicated as ever to achieving more sustainable food systems and helping the Commission meet its Green Deal goals, as we continue to work through Covid-19 to keep food on the table.
The pandemic has taught our industry a lot, and three things stand out:
- We have a resilient supply chain. That 500 million consumers around Europe have continued to access quality food and drink products, despite major disruption, is testament to a finely tuned process and the tireless work of people up and down the food supply chain.
- Constructive dialogue is essential to solve problems. The food and drink industry, alongside many stakeholders, maintained regular contact with the European Commission, the FAO and others during the pandemic to flag up – and rapidly resolve – pressure points that threatened to break the food supply chain.
- Economic sustainability shouldn’t be taken for granted. Sustainability is the right thing for our businesses, for our society, and for our planet and the Covid pandemic has not diminished our support of the Green Deal ambition. Covid has highlighted one particular pillar of sustainability, the economic one, essential for Europe’s 291,000 food and drink businesses and their 4.8 million-strong workforce – and particularly for small and medium sized businesses in the food service sector.
The food and drink industry now enters 2021 full of ambition. As Europe’s largest manufacturing industry, we want to help kickstart a thriving European economy and to lead the EU towards truly sustainable food systems – where we can help deliver a greener planet and healthier living for all.
Contributing positively to the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy will remain our major 2021 focus, but here we’ve broken down some of our priorities across FoodDrinkEurope’s four departments.
💚 Towards a greener planet 💚
We are committed to helping the EU reach its target for carbon neutrality by 2050, to halve food waste by 2030 and to deliver a truly circular approach to packaging. Some specific focus areas this year include:
- Farm to fork: We look forward to playing an active and constructive role in Farm to Fork Strategy discussions, including input into the proposed Code of Conduct, and preliminary discussions on the future legislative framework for sustainable food systems and sustainable labelling. Note that Farm to Fork is prioritised across all of our departments to ensure our contribution to environmental, societal and economic sustainability.
- Climate change: This year we will work towards building a decarbonisation roadmap to ensure that the food and drink industry can effectively contribute to the EU’s climate neutrality goal by 2050. We will also participate in discussions on legislative proposals to provide our insights on energy efficiency and industrial emissions reduction.
- Deforestation and biodiversity: Our members will work to build deforestation-free supply chains and ensure due diligence for food and drink products, while contributing to political discussions on forest and biodiversity protection and restoration.
- Circular economy and packaging: The implementation of the new Circular Economy Action Plan and the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive are both high priorities for our members, to ensure greater resource efficiency and more sustainable packaging solutions for food and drink products.
- Green claims: We will provide expertise on the upcoming Commission proposals on substantiating green claims in order to ensure clear, reliable, and transparent information and to empower consumers to make more sustainable buying choices.
🧡 Towards healthier living 🧡
The Covid pandemic has changed many people’s buying, eating and cooking habits. It has also emphasised the importance of a balanced diet and an active lifestyle to improve and maintain our mental and physical health. Here are some areas we will focus on in 2021 to achieve healthier living across Europe:
- Beating cancer plan: With the publication of Europe’s important Beating Cancer Plan, expected soon, the food and drink industry will show how it can be part of the solution, for instance through initiatives to increase the consumption of wholegrain, fibre, fruits and vegetables, but also through specialised medical nutrition for cancer patients.
- Diets: In the context of the Farm to Fork Strategy, we will continue to emphasise the importance of balanced diets and healthy lifestyles, including through our Eat & Live Well initiatives on product reformulation, consumer information, responsible marketing and advertising, and promoting health and wellbeing.
- Food information: We will provide input into the impact assessment on the revision of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation, aimed at improving the information provided on food and ingredients. This will include front-of-pack nutrition labelling, date marking and other aspects of labelling. We hope to avoid further fragmentation of labelling rules throughout the EU, which are not helpful for consumers or businesses.
- Code of Conduct: We will take an active part in shaping and contributing to the EU Code of Conduct for responsible business and marketing practices, which is due by June 2021. Our sector has been on a trajectory towards sustainability for more than a decade and many companies have already made commitments in areas such as health and nutrition, as well as climate neutrality and circularity. We are ready to lead by example.
💙 Towards a thriving economy 💙
Our goal is to support sustainable businesses that can drive a prosperous EU economy that supports jobs and livelihoods. To do this we need a fully functioning EU Single Market and external trade arrangements that allow for free and fair competition. Some specific focus areas this year include:
- EU-UK trade: Now that a deal has been reached, our priority is to ensure EU-UK trade continues to flow with as little disruption as possible, to benefit business and protect jobs.
- Horeca recovery: In the context of Covid, supporting the safe reopening of the hospitality and service sector, an important outlet for our industry, will be key.
- Food supply contingency plan: We will provide input into the Commission’s important contingency plan for food supply and food security.
- The Common Agricultural Policy: We look forward to the conclusion of the negotiations on the CAP reform. Pursuing market-orientation, safeguarding the Single Market and aligning with the Green Deal will be key for the long-term sustainability of farming.
- Updated trade policy: The Commission will soon publish a communication on an updated EU trade policy. We will highlight industry priorities for World Trade Organisation reform, implementation and enforcement of free trade agreements and removal of market access barriers.
- EU-US relations: We will continue to engage with policy makers and insist on the removal of punitive tariffs on agri-food products as a result of the Airbus-Boeing WTO civil aircraft disputes.
We want to help kickstart a thriving European economy and lead the EU towards truly sustainable food systems
❤️ Excelling in safety, science and innovation ❤️
Europe prides itself on having the safest food in the world, and we want to maintain this track-record with a science-based approach to regulation that encourages innovations needed to transform our food systems. Specific focus areas for 2021 include:
- Food contact material: 2021 will be an important year for legislation on food packaging and food contact materials, and effective coordination between the different departments of the European Commission will be key to get it right. We will contribute to consultations on the revision of EU rules on food contact, which should establish harmonised, risk-based rules for all food contact materials.
- Risk communication: Safety of food products is of utmost importance for the food and drink industry. We ask policy makers to consider regulatory measures proportionate to the reality of the risk experienced by consumers, for example during the ongoing revision of the existing Benchmark Levels for acrylamide in food. A key aspect is how risk is perceived and communicated throughout the risk analysis process to all interested parties, we are therefore looking forward to the EU’s plan on risk communication around food safety. We are also excited to be a partner in the FOODSAFETY4EU project, that started on 1 January 2021.
- Horizon Europe: We will contribute our expertise and insights to build a successful Horizon Europe, the new EU framework for research and innovation (R&I) which will run from 2021 to 2027. Public investment in collaborative R&I, coordination of existing initiatives, and support for public-private partnerships will be essential to find new solutions to the challenges we are facing, and we will drive priorities for the food and drink sector developed by our European Technology Platform ‘Food for Life’.
- Transparency: The new transparency regulation on risk assessment in the food chain will become applicable on 27 March 2021. We will continue to call for a balance between necessary public access to information and ensuring a positive investment environment for EU food and drink companies to innovate for a sustainable future.
Of course, our list of work areas extends way beyond the areas mentioned above and more will emerge as the year progresses. But I can guarantee that our team at FoodDrinkEurope is absolutely committed to the mandate handed to us by our membership – to work, with partners and policymakers, to achieve truly sustainable food systems.