The EU’s pivotal Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, presented on Wednesday (20 May), softened its stance on meat compared to the previous draft versions but offered staunch support for alternative proteins, which campaigners said was the first step in the right direction.
A draft version of the strategy, seen by EURACTIV.com, specified that the Commission would propose to “stop stimulating production or consumption of meat” but this did not make the final cut of the strategy.
Moreover, a reference to encouraging people to consume “less meat,” seen in the first draft of the strategy, was refined to “less red and processed meat.”
However, the strategy still laid out a commitment to “help reduce the environmental and climate impact of animal production”. It said there will be a review of the EU promotion programme for agricultural products with a view to enhancing its contribution to sustainable production and consumption in line with the political priorities of the Commission.
The strategy also said it will strictly assess any proposal for coupled support in member states’ Strategic Plans from the perspective of the need for overall sustainability.
Support for a move to a “more plant-based diet” did remain a key element of the F2F as part of efforts to reduce not only risks of life-threatening diseases, but also the environmental impact of the food system.
There is also a strong emphasis on alternative food and feedstuffs, saying that research will focus on “increasing the availability and source of alternative proteins such as plant, microbial, marine and insect-based proteins and meat substitutes.”
It also states it will examine EU rules to reduce the dependency on critical feed materials, citing “soya grown on deforested land” as an example.
It will tackle this by “fostering EU-grown plant proteins as well as alternative feed materials”, in which it names insects, marine feedstocks and by-products from the bio-economy.
Olga Kikou, European affairs manager at Compassion in World Farming EU, said it was “great to see a desire for change,” adding that while it was disappointing to see ambitious elements of the F2F removed at the last minute, she remained “hopeful that the EU will eventually push for the much-needed food revolution.”
She added that this must take a two-pronged approach – improving animal welfare and reducing meat production and consumption.
The strategy indeed pledges to revise the animal welfare legislation, including on animal transport and slaughter of animals, to align it with the latest scientific evidence, and make it easier to enforce and ultimately ensure a higher level of animal welfare.
The strategy adds that the Commission will also consider options for animal welfare labelling, emphasising that using labelling to link production methods to consumer demand can enhance opportunities for farmers.
Farmers association COPA-COGECA emphasised that they advocated a “balanced diet” in which the consumption of healthy food from animal and plant sources is essential, adding that the “European farming community supports any measure encouraging consumers to adopt a diet that ensures their good health.”
However, they cautioned that any type of nutrition labelling and dietary guidelines should be based on “sound science and avoid a simplistic approach, which can be misleading.”
They added that such initiatives should therefore “take into account the utmost importance of the vital nutritional value provided by agricultural products, including those of animal origin whose contribution to a healthy diet cannot be overlooked.”
The Good Food Institute Europe (GFI Europe) welcomed the European Commission’s pledge to make alternative proteins, such as plant-based meat, a cornerstone of its research agenda, saying that this marks a “significant step forward” by the Commission.
GFI Europe policy manager, Alexander Holst, said that “alternative proteins, such as plant-based and cultivated meat, play a critical role in Europe’s transition to a more sustainable, healthy and just food system,” adding that they also represent a “major commercial opportunity for Europe to implement a truly green recovery from the COVID-19 recession.”
Dr Jeanette Fielding, chief corporate affairs and communications officer for Upfield, the largest plant-based consumer product company in the world, warned that although they welcomed the emphasis on alternative proteins, a “sustainable food system in the EU is not possible until plant-based foods are put on an equal regulatory footing with meat and dairy.”
“The Commission has the ambition to provide “clear information that makes it easier for consumers to choose healthy and sustainable diets,” but this is completely undermined by regulatory barriers like the ban on the use of commonly used terms for healthier, more sustainable foods.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]