As part of the EU Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy concerns itself with sustainability in the European food system. As one of its first deliverables, the EU Commission launched the Code of Conduct on responsible food business and marketing strategies. It aims to reduce the environmental footprint of food consumption in the EU by 2030. To achieve this, it commits participating businesses to an increase in the promotion of plant-based proteins and calls for increased animal welfare and environmental standards in the production process of animal products.
We, amongst other NGOs, experts and industry representatives had the chance to input our expertise on animal welfare and the final Code of Conduct includes many important points. However, if we want to reduce our carbon footprint and work towards real food sustainability in the European Union, efforts need to go further.
We need to not only increase the consumption of plant-based proteins, but shift away from animal derived foods. The current Code unfortunately fails to recognise this urgent need to reduce meat consumption, which should be based on a ‘less and better’ principle. The only way to effectively reduce the environmental impact of our food is by drastically reducing livestock numbers and switching to less intensive farming methods. And it’s not just about addressing our environmental footprint at home, animal feed from imported soy drives deforestation, ecosystem collapse and is a major driver of pandemics. Its impact must be properly addressed in any EU sustainability strategies, especially if we are to achieve a sustainable food system that fulfils the Sustainable Development Goals, the EU Climate Law and the Paris Agreement.
Despite the Code’s laudable target of a climate neutral food chain by 2050 this cannot happen if we do not address the unsustainable number of animals farmed for food. The Code side-steps this issue by suggesting companies address their operations emissions through greener energy or packaging solutions. Yet, the biggest GHG mitigation impact is a shift to plant-based diets, in combination with higher animal welfare practices, which should be recognized in any new iteration of the Code. When assessing a product’s impact, we need to include the carbon footprint of its supply chain. Companies also play a decisive role in the marketing and promotion of different foods to consumers and can play a golden role in promoting healthier and more sustainable plant alternatives.
This dual approach to reduce consumption and production has been scientifically assessed as having the most beneficial impact on the environment, climate change, biodiversity. It also offers real social and economic impact in terms of promoting healthy diets and reducing non-communicable diseases as well as reducing antimicrobial resistance and preventing pandemics.
This doesn’t mean that they will have to reduce their product range. A whole world of meat alternatives is open for companies wishing to diversify and protect the planet. An independent expert report to the Commission identified the development of new meat alternatives, such as cultivated meat and other novel food technologies, as an important component in achieving the Commission’s Food 2030 Initiative for a sustainable food system for a healthy Europe. Under the Code there are opportunities to enhance innovation and resilience. This is a perfect opportunity for companies to explore the further development of novel meat alternatives, and perhaps even win new customers.
For businesses looking for more ambitious targets, Four Paws has its own business benchmark, the Atlas Challenge. It ranks companies in the various food industry sectors on their current and future plans to assume their responsibility in promoting a more sustainable food system. The Atlas Challenge assesses the companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports (and / or policies), their product range, their marketing and promotional tactics, and their commitment and progress towards making positive changes for farmed animals, the environment and the planet as a whole by implementing strategies towards meat and fish reduction and strategizing a push for innovative plant-based foods.
To sum it up, the code of conduct is a step in the right direction. However, if we do want to shift towards a more sustainable food system and significantly reduce environmental and climate impact while also contributing to preventing the next pandemic, we need to do more! Th EU needs to encourage and incentivise companies to shift away from animal products and reward investments in plant based alternatives.