Why the EU needs evidence-based sustainable food systems
2 min read

Why the EU needs evidence-based sustainable food systems

The European Union’s climate policies are rightly aimed at reducing our carbon footprint across all our activities. Tackling the climate crisis has become an imperative for humanity, and we need to take a hard look at everything we do.

This is not just about Europe either, as the COP26 summit in Glasgow showed. This is a global issue, and the EU needs to work with countries around the world to agree to common actions.

The European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy, launched in May 2020 as part of the Green Deal, sets out how to achieve a fair, sustainable and healthy food system. CropLife Europe (CLE) supports this broad strategy and was pleased to make its submission to the Commission’s public consultation on Sustainable Food Systems.

At CropLife Europe, we believe that food systems connect us to our natural and social environment. Farming is an essential human activity: our food security is our responsibility. We also have a responsibility to become more sustainable, even as demand for food rises. This means balancing complex social, economic, and ecological elements as we adapt our agricultural practices.

Our submission to the Sustainable Food Systems consultation centres around three key elements.

The first point is that when it comes to determining what sustainability is, we need analyses that are results-based. Any sustainability analysis of agricultural products must take an integrated approach that focuses on impact. Food production is complex and takes place in different environments, according to various practices. We cannot limit sustainability questions to single products, processes, or actions: an action-based approach would reward isolated practices without considering their broader effects.

That is why we need an evidence-based approach to sustainability. It must be grounded in science, with clear criteria across sustainability’s three pillars: economic, environmental, and social. Local authorities must be empowered to assess sustainability based on local realities, rather than be forced into following a one-size-fits-all approach.

The second point is that the food and farming sectors need predictable decision-making. Food safety and sustainability analyses should not be conflated or treated within the same regulatory processes. They are conceptually different things. If complex sustainability analyses are added to product regulatory assessments, they would not only make EU decision-making processes much more cumbersome but would also make them less predictable. Sustainability analyses need their own parameters: the Commission should ensure they are predictable, transparent, objective, and consistent. But they should not be fused with risk assessment processes.

The third point is that we need to work with our partners around the world. Global challenges require multilateral solutions. International arenas offer a framework for discussions, and we encourage the Commission to prioritise cooperation with global partners.

This may be hard work, and it is slower than just going alone. The COP26 summit showed how challenging it can be when almost 200 countries attempt to agree common action. But unilateral action could lead to the further fragmentation of global governance, as well as the adoption of different standards across different markets. In addition, unilaterally imposed sustainability requirements can be unfair and discriminatory, could spark trade frictions with the EU’s partners and could also impact the EU’s own food security.

As with many EU initiatives, the future framework for Sustainable Food Systems will take time to be fully enacted: there will be a second public consultation of all interested parties in the first quarter of 2022, and a proposal is not expected before the fourth quarter of 2023. We fully support the direction of travel and will continue to ensure that the voice of the crop protection sector – and the millions of users in the European farming community – is heard in throughout the process.

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