The EU may be set to scrap its sustainability commitments27 Sep 2023
A speech delivered by President Ursula von der Leyen last week inferred that the EU could be drawing back on its commitments to create a more sustainable and healthier food system.
Environmentalists are growing concerned about the EU’s willingness to deliver on its ambitious sustainability commitments, following an address delivered by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, in France last week.
Sustainability falls off the agenda
The State of the Union speech, which took place in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 13 September, was expected to provide long-awaited updates on various matters affecting the food industry. Amongst these is the proposed EU legislative framework for Sustainable Food Systems (FSFS), which introduces changes on issues that are critical for the sector, including eco- and front-of-pack nutrition-labelling.
In her speech, the president focussed largely on strengthening the European economy, increasing the bloc’s market competitiveness, supporting Ukraine’s war efforts against Russia, and developing global standards for the “safe and ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI)”.
To the disappointment of multiple industry stakeholders, von der Leyen’s speech failed to address the transition to sustainable food systems, a key component of the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy under the Green Deal. This move has left environmentalists feeling wary about the status of the EU’s commitment to the FSFS legislation.
Despite having made “substantial progress” on several initiatives including the Directive on empowering consumers for the green transition, the revision of the Waste Framework Directive, and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), other areas have been “repeatedly delayed,” said Andrea Gutierrez-Solana, associate director at Whitehouse Communications, a political communications agency with clients across the EU and UK including LighterLife and the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA).
“The highly awaited 2023 State of the Union address was meant to address some of these forgotten files, but the Commission failed to make any reference to them. After difficult conversations with the European Parliament and strong pressure from industry to ensure any proposals that are feasible, the Commission seems to be slowing down on the sustainability agenda that it had set in 2020," Gutierrez-Solana said.
Empty praise for farmers
A flagship initiative of the Farm to Fork strategy, the Sustainable Food Systems Framework (FSFS) legislation aims to make healthy and sustainable food more accessible, desirable, and affordable for European consumers.
© AdobeStock/Bits and Splits
The law seeks to facilitate the shift to sustainable food production via the introduction of a suite of initiatives, such as the sustainability labelling framework. Despite being expected to come into force before the end of the year, any mention of the legislation was omitted from the president’s latest address.
Regarding the food industry, von der Leyen focussed on supporting and strengthening food security and the agricultural sector, praising the Green Deal and emphasising the EU’s commitment to the net-zero transition.
“Food security, in harmony with nature, remains an essential task. I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to our farmers, to thank them for providing us with food day after day,” von der Leyen said.
“For us in Europe, this task of agriculture – producing healthy food – is the foundation of our agricultural policy. And self-sufficiency in food is also important for us. That is what our farmers provide.”
Is the EU abandoning its sustainability pledges?
According to a report published in the Financial Times a few days before the speech, “three EU officials with knowledge of the matter” said that the European Commission (EC) has dropped proposals of a sustainable food law aimed at increasing sustainable food production across the EU.
“Ursula von der Leyen supported an approach whereby the EU should be protecting the industry rather than imposing administrative duties on them. For instance, von der Leyen stated that, in the near future, the Commission will ensure that administrative burdens are reduced for companies, setting a target for the EU to reduce reporting obligations by 25%,” said Gutierrez-Solana.
“This arguably puts a question mark on the future of the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive which is currently going through trialogue negotiations”.
This rumour follows a move earlier in September by 160 civil society organisations and scientists to issue a joint open letter to the Commission urging it to publish the proposed FSFS legislation before the end of the EC’s mandate in June 2024. The letter expresses doubt about the EU’s ability to deliver on Green Deal commitments and asks the Commission to follow through on its vow to create a sustainable, fair, and healthy food system.
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