MEP: Green Deal should ensure EU food sector’s competitiveness

EP-092279C_SIMSON_Hearing_Q_A [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report Sustainable food systems in the Farm to Fork strategy.

With the new European Green Deal, all actors across the food chain will need to adjust to new EU standards. But policymakers also have to make sure EU industry is protected against unfair competition, MEP Maria Spyraki told EURACTIV.com.

Maria Spyraki is a New Democracy MEP (EPP) and co-chair of the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. She spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos. 

The integration of the Farm-2-Fork Strategy into the Green Deal requires a long-term perspective, and a holistic approach involving all stakeholders. How can we make sure that policies will be properly implemented, considering that national governments often focus on the short-term? What can the EU do?

The Farm-2-Fork Strategy (F2F) is a key component of the European Green Deal. The European food industry is famous for following specific key standards in order to create safe, nutritious and high quality products as well as for keeping the sustainability standards high.

With food systems currently responsible for almost one third of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, putting food under the spotlight is a step towards the right direction. By updating the current format, the F2F strategy will help reduce emissions and produce a more sustainable food system.

F2F initiative will create new opportunities for all operators in the food value chain. Stakeholders will be benefited from the new technologies and scientific discoveries, combined with increasing public awareness and demand for sustainable food.

The Strategy is in line with the new environmental perspective of the European Commission. It focuses on the significant reduction of the use of chemical pesticides, as well as the use of fertilizers and antibiotics, setting out specific targets. More products based on the principles of bio-economy and circular economy like fertilisers originate from farming residues (harvest, pruning) and vegetable residues (e.g. peas, green beans), gristmills residues, etc. Ecolabelling will have a significant role in this context, not only to the agricultural and fishery product but also to their entire logistics chain including transport, storage, packaging and food waste.

In the context of this holistic approach that you very rightly mentioned in your question, it is important to note the connection between healthy food and cancer. The intentions of the European Institutions are very clear. President von der Leyen’s political guidelines refer explicitly to “a European plan to fight cancer, to support Member States in improving cancer control and care” and to this end the discussion on the ‘Europe’s beating cancer plan’ will commence in the coming days.

There is already robust scientific evidence that the dietary bioactive compounds found in whole plant-based foods have significant anticancer and chemopreventative properties. With the required adjustments and changes in the food processing system, we could increase the retention of bioactive compounds and thus the chemopreventative properties of whole foods.

How do you see the role of industry in this process, from production, processing to packaging and transport?

F2F Strategy is our chance to transform our food industry and our food system for a truly sustainable Europe. Therefore, evolving industries should welcome this initiate as an opportunity to upgrade their business and as their chance to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Against this background, food and drink manufacturers, as well as dairy, fishery and agricultural sector need to ensure that their business models and strategies are heavily focused on sustainability. This needs to be promoted from top to bottom from the types of machinery they use to the vehicles they use to deliver products whilst also meeting consumer demands.

The food industry should make full use of the great potential of the sustainable finance action plan and the financial instruments of the InvestEU programme.

At the same time, it is important to mention the difficulties that the EU producers will face. The increased awareness of the consumers may result in higher production costs, but it can also be an opportunity for the producers to differentiate their products in the context of alternative production systems.

According to the EU agricultural outlook 2018-2030, a decline of 176 million ha in the total agricultural land is expected by 2030, while the total value of EU agricultural production is projected to grow in volume and value terms.

Whilst, the EU food and drink industry is generally competitive on a global scale since it produces high quality, healthy and safe food, it is rather challenging to maintain its competitiveness given its slower growth in labour productivity and added value.

The Green Deal sets the bar even higher and all actors across the food chain will have to adapt and comply with the new EU standards. At the same time though, it is our role as legislators to protect them against unfair competition when passing new EU laws and negotiating trade agreements with third countries.

What’s the role of innovation in tackling climate change throughout the food chain? Is the current EU legislation framework supportive of innovative tools? (in agriculture for instance).

F2F strategy is an opportunity to adopt common metrics and standards. In fact, if we want to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal of a ‘world with zero hunger’ by 2030 we will need more productive, efficient, sustainable, inclusive, transparent and resilient food systems. Nevertheless, this will also require an urgent transformation of the current agrifood system.

The positive aspect of this is the increasing number of corporations that already adopt environmental, social and governance (ESG) methodologies and investments, which are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. In fact,  disruptive’ digital technologies such as Blockchain, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Immerse Reality are already being implemented in several sectors. But the so-called ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (Industry 4.0) with extra further digital innovations and technologies will provide an extra boost.

However, there are challenges to consider in the ‘digitalization’ of agriculture and food value chain. The transformation must be done carefully in order to avoid an increase of a ‘digital divide’ between economies and sectors and between those with differing abilities to adopt new technologies.

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