Last week I got the chance to, amongst other NGO representatives, attend the annual Farm To Fork Conference organized by the European Commission. In the opening remarks, First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Commissioners Stella Kyriakides and Janusz Wojciechowski made one thing very clear: Leading the European Union in to a just and sustainable future is a priority. They emphasized that recent years have shown, that consumers are becoming more critical and want to know what ends up on their plate. This change has forced retailers to move quickly and make sustainability a priority in their stocking choices. However, in order to avoid green washing attempts and provide transparency, strict regulations on sustainability labelling must be implemented. As MEP Maria Noichl, representing the EU Parliament’s point of view, underlined in her opening remarks, farmers need to be at the forefront of the sustainability movement, since they will be the first victims of the climate crisis and that they are also parents and grandparents. A strong Farm to Fork strategy needs to focus on entirety of the food chain, to have a strong impact on Europe’s future.
As someone who has spent many years working towards these changes on a European level, it was encouraging to hear how much importance the European Commission places on these matters. At the same time, it is disheartening to look at the many ways in which stakeholders and lobbyists are currently trying to water down the strategy. This should not be a matter of farmers against environmentalists and NGOs or business against sustainability. A strong Farm to Fork strategy benefits all of us in the long run. For this reason, it is of uttermost importance, that the Own Initiative Report remains exactly the way ENVI and AGRI committees adopted it in their joint vote.
Research over the last decades, including the most recent IPCC report, has clearly established industrial animal agriculture as one of the main drivers of climate change. If we want to meet the emission targets set by the Paris Agreement, there is no way around changing our food systems and with them our food environments . These changes need to include a drastic reduction of the amount of animal based products we consume, higher welfare and sustainability standards for the production of animal based products and a move towards consuming more plant based alternatives. These systemic changes need to happen fast and in a way that does not threaten people’s existences. Both, producers and consumers need to be supported throughout this transition with financial incentives, educational tools and other resources. More sustainable alternatives need to be clearly labelled so consumers can make informed and conscious choices.
A strong European Green Deal, and a strong Farm to Fork Strategy as part of it, is needed to allow and facilitate this transition. We need strong support for measures such as the Sustainable EU Food System Initiative and drastic changes in the upcoming revision of the Animal Welfare legislation. There can no longer be opposite sides when it comes to making the European Union more sustainable and resilient for the challenges we will face in the coming years and we urge everyone to unite behind that goal to create a safer, kinder and more sustainable world for humans and animals alike.