Originally published on Foodunfolded.com in August 2020.
The European Commission recently announced a ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy that aims to make the food system fairer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly over the next decade. This would mean that the way we purchase and consume food will change in some ways. Here are 5 changes we can expect to see in the coming years.
‘Farm to Fork’ is a phrase that is often used in connection to the food system to include the various actors involved in growing, processing, transporting, selling, and consuming food. It is also used to describe short food supply chains: a configuration of supply chains characterised by fewer intermediaries between producers and consumers.
The strategy is a part of the EU Green Deal-a set of policies that seek to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. A climate neutral economy is one that generates net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.1 The Farm to Fork strategy addresses 3 key areas of the food supply chain: production, transporting, and food waste. The strategy is a long-term plan and will take a while to be articulated and implemented across the continent. However, based on the broad contents of the deal, we can extrapolate how it may impact our food consumption in the near future.
MORE ORGANIC FOOD
The Farm to Fork strategy wants to see at least 25% of EU’s agricultural land being used for organic farming by 2030. This is a big jump from the current 7.5%.2 If achieved, it would mean that we see a lot more organic food on the market than we do right now. To help achieve this, a new organic farming legislation will be implemented in the EU in 2021. The new legislation will make it easier for conventional farmers, even the smaller ones, to move to organic methods. The rules for organic farming will be simplified and the certification process will be streamlined. The new legislation will also allow group certification-a system through which farmers can form cooperatives to share the administrative and monetary burden of certification.
More organic food would mean that non-biological pesticides will be used to a lesser extent, farm animals will be better cared for, and more environmentally friendly agricultural techniques will be implemented. Organic foods will also be given more importance in public procurement. What remains to be seen is whether governments will subsidise organic farming enough for all consumers to be able to afford these products.
INNOVATIVE PACKAGING & SINGLE-USE CUTLERY
Food packaging plays an important role in the sustainability of food systems and consumer safety. Currently, there’s a lot of single-use plastic packaging on supermarket shelves. The Farm to Fork strategy recognizes this and aims to cut down on single use plastic packaging.
Packaging made from reusable and recyclable materials are poised to replace a lot of single-use plastic currently being used to protect our food. This change is also in line with the 2018 European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy that puts forward concrete actions to move to an economy that does not depend on single-use plastic.3 Next to packaging material, single-use cutlery in food service is also likely to be replaced by cutlery that is safe for reuse or made from biological material.
SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE PROTEIN OPTIONS
The strategy indicates that future diets should contain less red and processed meats than they do now but does not mention any quantitative goals for reduction in meat consumption. To ensure better health and lower greenhouse gas emissions, consumers will be nudged to include new sources of protein in their diets.
We are likely to see protein-rich products made from ingredients such as algae, insects, and soybeans become mainstream in the coming years. Farm animals that are part of the food system will also be moved to more sustainable diets. However, the process of introducing new food products comes with several time-consuming (but necessary) regulatory barriers related to ensuring their safety for human consumption. The transition to sustainable protein-rich foods will therefore be gradual and will rely on their health implications and consumers acceptance.
CHANGES IN FOOD LABELS
The purpose of labels on food products is to inform consumers about their contents and nutritional values. With the new strategy, the Commission wants to better inform consumers about nutrition and environmental impact of foods they buy. In the coming years, we might see nutrition related information printed on labels in a more harmonised way across the EU. Information about the origin and sustainability of certain products might become a mandatory part of labels as well. Overall, the strategy aims to make food labels more informative and transparent than they currently are.
IMPROVED FOOD SECURITY
Food security is defined as the state of having access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. In the EU, 43 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day.4 In the coming years, climate change and biodiversity loss are likely to make food insecurity worse for those in vulnerable living situations. To ensure all citizens have access to sufficient and affordable food without compromising the sustainability of the food system, the EU is looking to improve food assistance programmes, with fewer tons of safe and nutritious food ending up as waste, and better preparedness for any future disasters.
CAN THIS BE ACHIEVED?
The Farm to Fork strategy is an ambitious plan that will require changes at many levels to achieve its goals. Public law and policies will need to be amended at the EU as well as Member State level. Actors along the food supply chain, from farmers to retailers, will need to cooperate and adapt their practices for building a better, more resilient food system. And most importantly, we as consumers must be prepared to make environmentally conscious choices.