EU pressed to address meat reduction, plant-based diet in new food policy

"European citizens have heard the scientific community’s warnings about our need to opt for plant-based diets," MEP Francisco Guerreiro said. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The debate on livestock farming has heated up as a coalition of NGOs urged to EU executive to address the issue of reducing meat consumption in the announced Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy. Meanwhile, a Green MEP has filed a parliamentary question asking the Commission to promote the plant-based protein sector too.

In a letter sent on Tuesday (25 February), twenty NGOs called on Commission Vice-president Frans Timmermans and Commissioners Stella Kyriakides, Janusz Wojciechowski and Virginijus Sinkevičius “to explicitly recognise and address the need to reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy and eggs in the Farm to Fork Strategy.”

The NGOs advocate for a dedicated Commission action plan oriented to decreased and improved consumption and production of meat, dairy and eggs in the EU, in order to shift away from industrial farming.

The requested measures should also prepare food environments for the uptake of more healthy, plant-rich diets.

The letter was signed by environmental protection and animal welfare NGOs such as the WWF, Greenpeace, ActionAid, Birdlife, Eurogroup for Animals and Compassion in world farming.

The announced Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) will be devoted specifically to making agriculture practices more sustainable but will also outline a new integrated food policy that involves the full supply chain.

For Sini Eräjää, a Greenpeace EU agriculture campaigner, the time has come for the EU to start treating meat and dairy like other sources of pollution and start talking about reduction targets

“Producing and consuming meat and dairy has massive environmental impacts and is a major driver of climate change, so to ignore this in the Farm to Fork strategy is baffling,” she said.

The debate on livestock farming had originally turned sour when environmentalist groups and animal welfare NGOs started accusing the farming sector of killing citizens with unhealthy overconsumption of meat products, in addition to the suffering that farmed animals experience.

Producers and NGOs are still far apart on animal farming

A lively but polarised debate between farmers and an environmental organisation has exposed barely-concealed tensions between stakeholders over livestock farming, which could colour the political agenda of the next legislative term.

However, a multi-stakeholder group in the livestock food chain is not bowing to this narrative and has started a campaign “to restore balance.”

The campaign European Livestock Voice brings together sectors ranging from animal health to breeding and provides an online platform with FAQ-format information on livestock in Europe.

The main goal of the campaign is to try and tell the other half of the story, addressing the threat of a ‘livestock exit’, as they call the potential phasing-out of animal farming in Europe.

The issue of animal farming has recently been raised by Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski in a controversial tweet where he complained about intensive pig farming in some EU countries.

The comment was hailed by animal welfare groups but also met the harsh criticism of the livestock sector, reflecting the lively but highly polarised debate between farmers and NGOs on the matter.

EU agriculture chief under pressure over bid to trim intensive pig farming

Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, wants to crack down on the environmental impact of intensive animal farming, but apart from support from animal welfare groups, his calls have so far met with mixed reactions.

Plant-based nutrition

Last week, the Portuguese Green MEP Francisco Guerreiro filed a parliamentary question to the EU executive, sharing some points in common with the NGOs’ letter but mostly complaining about the fact that the Commission is not making efforts to help develop the plant-based protein sector.

Contacted by EURACTIV, Guerreiro explained the reasons behind his question. “European citizens have heard the scientific community’s warnings about our need to drastically reduce meat consumption and opt for plant-based diets – and many have been doing so, as the plant-based market growth demonstrates,” he said.

However, he pointed out that no direct mention was made of ‘plant-based diets’ in an early leak of the Strategy’s draft, hindering the recognition of the sector and confusing consumers.

“With carefully chosen words, the Commission skirted around the possibility of damaging the meat industry by referring to plant-based diets as ‘alternative sources of protein’, a usual practice in its official documents,” he said.

According to him, the EU doesn’t consider putting forward incentives for farmers to transition from livestock production to plant-protein production, as the livestock sector continues to receive robust Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies.

“How is it possible that the EU allocated around €71.5 million in the past three years to programmes promoting meat when we know that meat and dairy are emission-intensive producers compared to vegetables and fruits?” he said.

“How come a marketing campaign entitled ‘Pork Lovers Europe’ was given €1.4 million of EU funds when we have been alerted to the need to reduce meat consumption?” he added.

For him, there is a massive contradiction between what the Commissions says, the policies it proposes and the scientific evidence that highlights the need to drastically change consumption patterns.

“This is the last chance for the EU to try to revert the environmental damage that has been caused throughout the decades. I hope the Commission does not let down its citizens again,” he concluded.

Greens, socialists back meat tax to cover environmental costs of livestock

A new report commissioned by the Dutch True Animal Protein Price Coalition (TAPP) suggests that retail price of meat does not reflect the environmental costs associated with its production, and calls for a “sustainability charge” on meat.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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