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Leading the food sustainability transition

Published: 05/07/2021

Over the past months, I had the great honour and privilege to chair an EU Task Force that helped to develop an “EU Code of Conduct for Responsible Food and Business Practices”.

The EU Code of Conduct is one of the first deliverables of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and an integral part of its action plan. It sets out the common aspirations and actions that food business operators, particularly those in the ‘middle part’ of the chain (e.g. manufacturers, retailers, food service operators), can take to improve their sustainability impacts in contribution to sustainable food systems, tackling areas such as food waste, nutrition, biodiversity, sustainable diets, climate, deforestation, sustainable agriculture and more. It invites companies and other actors related to food systems to voluntarily put forward ambitious sustainability commitments, which are tangible, quantifiable if possible and measurable.

The Task Force – bringing together food chain representatives ‘from farm to fork’; international organisations such as FAO, OECD and WHO; environmental and health NGOs; trade unions; consumer groups; and the European Commission – was mandated to conclude its work through an intense process within no more than three months, in order for the Code to be launched before the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit.

This work was successfully completed in June 2021 and is open for signature and contributions following a high-level launch event on the 5th of July 2021 in the presence of European Commission First Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans and European Commissioners Stella Kyriakides (Health and Food Safety) and Thierry Breton (Internal Market).

The Code sets 7 aspirational objectives,accompanied by aspirational targets and indicative actions, covering the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social, economic):

  1. Healthy, balanced and sustainable diets for all European consumers
  2. Prevention and reduction of food loss and waste
  3. A climate neutral food chain in Europe by 2050
  4. An optimised circular and resource-efficient food chain
  5. Sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
  6. Sustainable value creation in the European food supply chain through partnership
  7. Sustainable sourcing in food supply chains

As Chair of the Task Force, I have very much enjoyed and appreciated the readiness and openness from many European and international food systems actors to actively think about shaping and strengthening our food systems for the future. I sense a willingness from all sides to listen to each other better, to collaborate more together and to perform better collectively. As the European food chain already has a great track record worldwide for providing safe and tasty quality food, as demonstrated by our leading trade figures, I can see how the chain is transitioning to lead the sustainability challenge globally.

“I sense a willingness from all sides to listen to each other better, to collaborate more together and to perform better collectively.”

The Code does not pretend to be a panacea; it is complementary to the legislative measures that form part of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and other initiatives of the European Green Deal. Whereas we have set out the “what” and the “where to” together, differences in view among various actors about the “how” may reasonably persist. However, the Code aims to create a broad, positive movement and inspire food companies of all sizes and categories to integrate sustainability into their long-term business strategies and prepare diligently for the future. Its inclusive nature is based on the strong belief that every actor, every sector, can make a meaningful contribution by assessing ways to improve sustainability in its own operations and in partnership with its suppliers, customers and consumers.

I very much invite you to join the EU Code, which is an opportunity to show your company’s/sector’s frontrunner ambitions to food sustainability – whether you are a big or a small food business. Do not hesitate to drop me a line if you would like to participate in this initiative.

By Dirk Jacobs

Deputy Director General/Director of Consumer Information, Nutrition & Health