Industry’s pathway to more sustainable food systems

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Hubert Weber: "The food and drink industry is determined to accelerate its actions to encourage balanced diets and an active lifestyle." [FoodDrinkEurope]

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

As the largest manufacturing sector in the EU, the food and drink industry will be a key stakeholder in the European Green Deal discussions, especially when it comes to the Farm to Fork Strategy. Hubert Weber, president of FoodDrinkEurope, outlines the food and drink sector’s route to more sustainable food systems.

We are at a critical time in our history. We must avoid a damaging rise in global temperatures and loss of biodiversity, while continuing to provide safe, affordable, high quality and nutritious food to a growing population.

Some good progress has been made, but we need to accelerate our efforts to improve the way we grow, manufacture and consume our food and drink products.

As the largest manufacturing sector in Europe, buying some 70% of all EU farm produce, the food and drink industry has an important role to play in the transition towards more sustainable food systems.

This is why FoodDrinkEurope recently published a paper outlining the food and drink industry priority actions and recommendations to support a greener planet, healthier living and thriving business.

A greener planet

Tackling climate change is front of mind for our sector. We support the Paris Agreement efforts to keep global temperature rises to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and will take a lead in supporting Europe’s ambitious target to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050.

In the EU, an estimated 20 per cent of food is lost or wasted. By cutting this waste we can avoid the associated carbon emissions – not to mention the unnecessary stresses on our soils, water and energy sources.

Our sector has committed to contribute to the UN sustainable development goal to halve food waste by 2030, we are also taking actions to eliminate inefficiencies in the supply chain and raise consumer awareness on issues such as date marking.

As a major user of packaging, a circular economy approach on plastic is also a top priority. Last year, 27 million tons of plastic waste was collected across the EU, while only 4 million tons of recycled plastic was used.

As part of the Circular Plastics Alliance, we are working together with the plastic value chain  to achieve the EU target to ensure that 10 million tons of recycled plastic make their way into new products by 2025.

We will also continue our work to limit the quantity of plastics and packaging we use and to find sustainable alternatives, while importantly, maintaining the highest level of safety of our food and drink products.

Biodiversity loss is another great challenge. The natural world is an important benchmark of planetary health and it is worrying to see the rapid loss of biodiversity both in Europe and globally. We must protect our forests and strengthen policy for sustainable land-use practices.

As major buyers of raw materials, we also work closely with farmers to ensure that the supply of farm produce is sustainably sourced. At the EU level, we want a robust Common Agriculture Policy that can support the demand for safe, affordable food, while also protecting our environment.

Healthier living

Food and drink products are a necessity, but also a pleasure. Today in Europe, we have access to a variety and quality of safe food and drink that our grandparents could only have dreamt of. However, some consumers can experience a lack of balance in terms of the quantity of food they consume, and the lifestyles they pursue, affecting their health.

The food and drink industry is determined to accelerate its actions to encourage balanced diets and an active lifestyle. Innovation is central to further optimise the nutritional content of products, to develop new nutritious food products and to respond to consumer demands.

Also, identifying ways to further enhance clear and correct food information to consumers, including through digital means, will continue to be an important area for the industry.

Thriving businesses

When food and drink businesses thrive, they also help provide the jobs and skills needed for the EU economy to grow and maintain a decent standard of living for all. The food and drink industry has a good story to tell, providing jobs to over 4.7 million people.

The industry is also diverse, with 50 per cent of sector turnover generated by more than 290,000 small and medium sized enterprises across the Continent.

We are also a global industry. The EU is the world’s largest exporter of food and drink, with exports having almost doubled over the past decade. Given we also rely on ingredients from farmers around the world – cocoa from West Africa for example – we are working to carry out due diligence to ensure global supply chains are fair and sustainable.

Part of the solution

We are at the beginning of an ambitious new decade. Over the next few years, the European Commission will drive the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy to ensure sustainable growth across the region.

Meanwhile, the international community has ten years to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and tackle the most pressing global issues of the day. The food and drink industry has the ideas, innovations and the desire to be part of the solution. We count on all stakeholders to act with us to succeed.

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