This article is part of our special report Farm to Fork: In search of a solution-oriented approach.
The EU’s determination to become a global leader in sustainability will be matched by investments in solutions to deliver on the commitments set out in the EU’s new food policy, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EURACTIV.com in an exclusive interview.
Investments in innovation and research will be part of the many solutions the EU wants to offer to support the transition to a more sustainable food system, the face of the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F) added.
Stella Kyriakides is Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. She spoke to EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna.
Do you think there was too much focus on the targets in the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), while some other relevant aspects have been neglected from the public perception point of view?
It was indeed clear throughout our work on the strategy that a lot of interest would be focused on the targets. They are understandable, tangible and measurable – and a clear sign of our level of ambition.
However, as you rightly point out, the F2F represents much more than a list of targets. It sets out a roadmap for action. These range from actions on food security, the improvement of animal welfare standards, reducing the pressure of fish stocks in the seas around Europe, to actions on food waste and food fraud.
Whilst initial reactions to the strategy centred on the targets proposed, I am seeing in my regular meetings with all the stakeholders involved that the focus is shifting towards all the various actions we have put forward in the F2f.
It is very encouraging to see the real willingness of our partners along the food chain to engage with us in order to deliver the transformational change our citizens and consumers expect from us.
So, will the focus be more on ‘constructive aspects’ of the F2F from now on, in terms of solutions provided to food producers?
The F2F already clearly identifies the tools and solutions that we will provide to food producers and, as the strategy is implemented at national, regional and local levels, many more will become available.
Our Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will remain key tools to support the transition to sustainable food systems while ensuring a decent living for farmers, fishers and their families.
Research and innovation will also be key drivers in accelerating the transition to sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems – and we will invest generously in these areas. We have proposed to spend, under Horizon Europe, no less than €10 billion on research and innovation in the agricultural, aquaculture and food production sectors to find digital technologies and nature-based solutions for the agri-food sector. With the InvestEU Fund, we will also aim to promote investment in the agri-food sector for all actors, no matter their size.
The results of these investments will be part of the many solutions we will be able to offer to support this important transition. With the F2F, we aim to provide an opportunity for Europe’s farmers, fishers and food producers to become global leaders in sustainability. Our determination to act is matched by the investments we are making and the tools we have to deliver on these important commitments.
Do you think that the F2F – like every transition – presents trade-offs as well?
All transitions have a cost – but in this case, the cost of inaction would be even greater for all of us. The bottom line is that our citizens demand healthy and sustainably produced food, from a healthy and green planet. It is our duty to deliver nothing less than that.
The transition to sustainability could thus represent a competitive ‘first mover’ advantage for our farmers in the medium term. We estimate that, at the global level, sustainable food systems can create new economic value of more than €1.8 trillion.
I am fully aware that some sectors, such as farming and fishing, will need support to adapt to new requirements and ways of working. However, I am equally convinced that the transition to sustainability and redesign of our food systems brings economic opportunities for all, not least for our farmers.
But how to cope with pitfalls that may arise?
I do not underestimate the short-term potential impact on sectors. For this reason, we will accompany the transition with both financial and regulatory tools. Financially, the new Common Agricultural Policy will provide member states with the means to reward and compensate for the sustainable choices of farmers.
The change we envisage with the F2F will not happen overnight, but we have the opportunity to build robust food systems for the future, as well as support a green and sustainable recovery from COVID-19.
Earlier in June, ministers complained about the risk of asymmetries between the new high demands on EU producers and lower sustainable standards of imported products. In order to avoid this scenario, how important is the ‘external’ dimension of the strategy?
The transition towards sustainable food systems cannot be successfully achieved by the EU alone. To raise the sustainability standards globally, we have to work with our international partners, at bilateral or at the multilateral levels, such as through the United Nations and the WTO.
This includes supporting developing countries in their transition to sustainable food systems and making food safety a top priority in future bilateral EU agreements.
We will deploy all diplomatic efforts to establish alliances in the international field to drive the convergence to a global sustainable food system so that EU farmers are not disadvantaged compared to third-country producers.
Reflections on how such environmental issues of global concern could be integrated in the EU’s decision-making on, for example, maximum residue levels for pesticides are ongoing. This could contribute towards ensuring such a level playing field.