You are what you eat: ‘From Farm to Fork’ strategy of the European Union

Article written by Mark Abdilla – Executive, MEUSAC
Published in The Malta Independent – 24.06.2020

The European Commission has been emphasising the importance of ensuring a more sustainable future for European citizens. This includes an inclusive and sustainable growth strategy to prioritise a carbon-free economy, improve people’s health and quality of life, and ensure the environment around us is cared for and protected.

An important aspect of this is ensuring that citizens have access to sustainable food systems and are equipped with the knowledge on how to contribute to making such systems sustainable. As such, the European Commission has recently unveiled its Farm to Fork Strategy, with the intention of changing eating habits across the continent over the next decade to make the agri-food system more sustainable.

This strategy would seek to influence the entire food supply chain in the European Union, shifting towards a system which has a positive impact on the environment. It would also look to ensure that the European food system can adapt to the impacts of climate change and participate in reversing the loss of biodiversity. As such, food production must minimise the use of resources, drastically reduce resultant carbon emissions and promote healthier diets and lifestyles. Meeting these objectives means that the system itself must undergo particular changes to make it more sustainable.

The strategy would primarily seek to reward farmers adopting practices which result in CO2 emission reductions. This would complement the opportunity to implement a circular bio-based economy within the agricultural sector. This would see a proliferation of renewable energy for agricultural practices, the elimination of chemical pesticides to protect animals from harm, as well as alternative and more sustainable measures to management the impact of pests.

Importantly, the strategy would see the prioritisation of organic farming across all Member States. This market is already growing and has the potential of not only having a positive impact of biodiversity but can also offer new employment opportunities and attract young farmers, which further protects local agricultural economies from drying up.

This move to improve interest in agriculture among youths is particularly important for Malta, as the agricultural sector is experiencing a steady decline in the number of farmers tilling the land. Most farmers in Malta work on a part-time basis and there is a severe lack of young farmers operating in the sector. Nevertheless, organic farming has garnered significant interest, which can be exploited to increase interest in the sector as a whole.

In order to continue working towards more sustainable food systems, the European Commission is also looking at prioritising those foodstuffs which do not generate significant emissions for their production. Such foodstuffs are typically plant-based food and would therefore translate into a reduction of meat production. Livestock accounts for about 14.5% of global emissions according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This means that meat production can be more emission-intensive than aluminium and steel production.

Such a change from meat to plant-based diets brings with it an important change in mentality and eating habits. While plant-based diets are growing more popular, demand for meat-based foods is still high, and heavily contributing to carbon emissions. Therefore, the strategy would also look towards promoting a shift in the way we eat, focusing on the environmental and personal benefits of plant-based diets.

As the European Commission starts working towards a carbon-neutral economy in 2050, a more sustainable and diversified food system must be at the centre of this objective. It is an objective which is not only the responsibility of the EU and its Member States, but also of European citizens and European businesses.

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