Transforming food systems towards sustainability is a top priority today. Not only is the cycle of production, processing, packaging and distribution of the food we consume - at least a third of which we waste - responsible for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions; agriculture and livestock farming also contribute to the pollution of the soil and water reserves and to the loss of biodiversity, and the need for ever larger tracts of land for cultivation and livestock farming, in the face of growing demand for food from an increasing population, causes deforestation, which in turn fuels global warming. The already evident effects of climate change, such as extreme meteorological phenomena, help explain why food systems need urgent reform to make them more resilient to droughts, floods and a rapidly changing climate in general.
But it is not only in terms of sustainability that today's food systems prove totally inadequate. Globally, there are still deep and intolerable inequalities in access to food: while one person in ten is undernourished - a growing rate, showing that achieving the second of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN Agenda for 2030, "end hunger", is still a distant mirage -, one in four is overweight (also a growing rate). Moreover, not all operators in the food supply chain are currently fairly rewarded for their work. In particular, those at the origin of the production chains, farmers, usually receive an infinitesimal fraction of the income from the sale of the final product.
Food systems reform was recently discussed at the UN Food Systems Summit, held on 23 September in New York at the same time as the UN General Assembly, and the "Farm to Fork" strategy presented by the European Commission on 20 May 2020 aims to transform food systems in the context of the European Union. A crucial component of the European Green Deal, the "Farm to Fork" Strategy aims to make the European food system more "fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly" through a variety of measures at every level of the food chain (from the farm to the fork), which the Commission will adopt between 2020 and 2024. In particular, the Commission has identified 27 measures in its action plan that will be implemented by 2024. Each measure has four objectives: to ensure the sustainability of food production; to stimulate sustainable practices in the food processing, wholesale, retail, hospitality and food services; to promote sustainable food consumption and facilitate the transition to healthy and sustainable diets; and to reduce food losses and waste.
Fair, healthy and environmentally friendly is, according to the Commission's own description, a food system that is environmentally neutral or positive, resilient to the effects of climate change (which it helps to mitigate), regenerative of biodiversity that is now threatened, capable of guaranteeing security of food supply (meaning the availability of nutritious and sustainable food in sufficient quantities for all) and, economically, capable of ensuring a fair return for all its operators, while guaranteeing prices that are as accessible as possible to all citizens. In other words, the food system to which the Farm to Fork Strategy aims to facilitate the transition is one that safeguards both the health of the planet and of people (assuming that one does not exist without the other), without compromising the income of those who derive their livelihoods from agriculture, livestock and food processing.
The Strategy, of course, aims at a transformation that primarily concerns the Union and its Member States, but it also aims to promote a global transition towards sustainable agri-food systems. In the communication sent by the Commission to the Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on 20 May 2020, it is stated in this regard that "through its external policies, including international cooperation and trade policy, the EU will pursue the development of Green Alliances on sustainable food systems with all its partners, in the context of bilateral, regional and multilateral fora". In other words, the EU will use its trade leverage to promote, as far as possible, a transformation of food systems towards sustainability in those third countries with which it trades - as it already does through the introduction of conditionality clauses in trade treaties relating, for example, to the respect of human rights.
Within the Strategy, the Commission has in some cases set concrete quantitative targets to be achieved by 2030. In relation to the sustainability of food production, for example, the Commission has set itself the target of halving the use of chemical pesticides, the loss of excess nutrients in soils (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) and sales of antibiotics for livestock and aquaculture by 2030, as well as a 20% reduction in fertiliser use. The Commission will also work to encourage more widespread use of organic farming, so that by 2030 25% of cultivated land in the EU will be under organic cultivation.
In autumn 2020, the Strategy was approved by the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. On 18 October, the European Parliament will vote in plenary session on the report drawn up jointly (on its own initiative) by its two committees on the "Environment, Public Health and Food Safety" (ENVI) and on "Agriculture and Rural Development" (AGRI).
Translated by Irene Leonardi