Historical moment for sustainable food and drink

Published: 31/05/2021

The global food system – the way we grow, process, transport and consume our food – is at an historic turning point. 

I am convinced that decisions made in the coming two years, by politicians and businesses, will determine the sort of world we live in for many decades to come. 

Make the right decisions and we will begin to reverse biodiversity decline, to tackle the climate emergency and solve the unacceptable imbalance we see today, where 800 million of the world’s population goes to bed hungry, while another one billion is obese.

If we get it wrong, our children and grandchildren will find it hard to forgive us. 

In a little over three months, global leaders will gather in New York to discuss the urgent measures needed to fix the global food system. 

The inaugural UN Food Systems Summit is a demonstration of how food has risen to the top of the global agenda, following on the path of the climate emergency. 

The summit will take place in September, just a few weeks after we pass the Global Planetary Overshoot Day – the date at which our use of natural resources exceeds what the earth can regenerate in the year.

The EU delegation will be keen to demonstrate how it’s approach – through the Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy – could lay down a blueprint for all nations to restock our natural reserves and tackle systemic health problems. 

But a lot of water still needs to flow under the bridge before we can determine whether the EU will get its approach right. 

One major fork in the road will be the EU’s Sustainable Food Systems legislation. The Commission is scheduled to make its legislative proposal in 2023. 

Our members at FoodDrinkEurope are absolutely determined that the EU does get it right – and that Europe can become the gold standard for food sustainability and lead the world by example. 

But to get it right we must all listen and we must all contribute. 

That’s why we have launched our #FoodFuture project. Throughout the rest of 2021 we will be hosting a series of activities – including focus groups, roundtable discussions and workshops – to discuss the future of our food. We will use the learnings gleaned from these activities to further build our vision on the practical pathways for our industry to help achieve fully sustainable food systems by 2050.

The private sector should be seen for the incredible asset it is. With vast resources, expertise and ingenuity we can be an agent for change, in collaboration with policy makers.

We do not claim to have all the answers, but we do have some. For example, as part of our #FoodFuture project, we have published a directory of over 400 industry actions on sustainability – a snapshot of activities taking place across the industry – which will enable all food and drink businesses to learn from their industry peers. 

A rising tide raises all ships, and I am convinced that healthy and fair competition amongst companies will be an important driver towards more sustainable solutions.  

Europe’s food and drink industry is made up of some 191,000 business, it employs nearly 5 million people and is the largest manufacturing industry in Europe. If we get this ship sailing in the right direction, the EU’s sustainability ambitions are more likely to be met. 

In December 2018 the world’s nations came together in Paris to broker a climate agreement to avert catastrophic rises in global temperatures. This has galvanised action, and efforts will be redoubled later this year at COP26. 

We hope the UN Sustainable Food Systems Summit will also provide a global wake-up call around our food systems. 

Along with the EU Green Deal, the next two years will determine whether we have food systems that function or fail, and whether future generations will look back on our actions with pride or with incredulity at a missed opportunity. 

This article was first published by Euractiv.