The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on the need for resilient supply chains, including perhaps most importantly, the critical need for sustainable supplies of healthy food. In line with this, the European Commission (the “Commission”) has published a Communication on a Farm to Fork Strategy (the “Strategy”) where it announces a series of legislative and policy initiatives intended to place sustainability at the center of EU food law and policy by ensuring fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food systems. The Strategy is one of the main pillars of the European Green Deal that, in December 2019, the European Commission announced as its policy flagship for the next five years.
The announced Strategy’s core objective is to facilitate a transition towards a sustainable food system by ensuring: (i) food production and consumption with a lower environmental impact that also contributes to climate change mitigation; (ii) a high level of food security; and (iii) conditions that allow for a healthy diet for consumers. To achieve these objectives, the Strategy announces a series of both legislative and non-legislative measures to be taken within the next four years, including restrictions on the use of pesticides and antimicrobials; new rules on food labeling; supply chain sustainability requirements; restrictions on food packaging; and new standards in bilateral free trade agreements with third countries.
Reducing Pesticides and Antimicrobials
The Strategy announces the Commission’s intention to propose halving the use of pesticides and antimicrobials by 2030. The Commission will revise the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides by 2022. The Commission will also revise the implementing regulations under the Plant Protection Products Regulation by 2021.
To reduce the use of antimicrobials in farmed animals, the Commission will implement the new regulatory framework on veterinary medicinal products and medicated feed, which limits the use and promotes prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials in animals. To reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming, the Strategy also announces a revision of the rules on antibiotics of the Feed Additives Regulation by 2021.
Food Information to Consumers
The Strategy also announces the Commission’s intention to empower consumers by providing them with adequate information to make healthy and sustainable food choices, thereby leveraging their influence on the food supply chain. By 2022, the Commission will present a legislative proposal on mandatory front-of pack nutrition labelling to enable consumers to make health conscious food choices and nutrient profiles in the context of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation to restrict the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt through claims.
Food Supply Chain Sustainability
The Strategy also proposes initiatives to stimulate sustainability in all food-related policies by making sure that all actors play their part in achieving the sustainability of the food supply chain. By 2021, the Commission will present an initiative on a corporate governance framework to ensure the integration of sustainability into the corporate strategies of the food industry, and an EU code and monitoring framework for responsible business and marketing conduct in the food supply chain. By 2023, the Commission will present a legislative framework that will establish common general principles and requirements for sustainable food systems and products. To empower consumers, the Strategy also announces the Commission’s intention to propose an EU sustainable food labelling framework, integrating nutritional, environmental and social aspects of the food supply chain, by 2024.
Due to the role played by packaging in the sustainability of food systems, the Commission also intends to propose a revision of the EU food contact materials legislation, to ensure the health of consumers and reduce the environmental footprint of the sector by 2022. As part of the Circular Economy Action Plan, by 2021, the Commission will also propose legislation requiring the substitution of single-use food packaging and cutlery by re-usable products.
Trade Implications and Bilateral Trade Agreements
The Strategy also announces that “EU trade policy should contribute to enhance cooperation with and to obtain ambitious commitments from third countries in key areas such as animal welfare, the use of pesticides and the fight against antimicrobial resistance”. To this aim, the Commission will seek to include a sustainability chapter in all EU bilateral trade agreements to foster EU environmental and food safety standards in third countries. The Commission will also aim to encourage a global transition to sustainable food systems by promoting its standards in international organizations and standards setting bodies.
Other important upcoming initiatives announced in the Strategy include the following:
- New minimum mandatory criteria by 2021 for sustainable food procurement to promote healthy and sustainable diets in schools and public institutions.
- A contingency plan by 2021 to ensure food supply and food security to be implemented in times of crisis affecting food systems.
- The introduction of EU carbon farming schemes within the Common Agricultural Policy by 2021 to decarbonize the food supply chain.
- Legislative initiatives by 2022 to enhance cooperation of primary producers to support their position in the food chain and non-legislative initiatives to improve transparency.
- A legislative proposal by 2022 to review the EU rules on date marking, e., “use by” and “best before” dates.
- Legislative proposals by 2022 requiring origin indication for specific categories of food products.
- A clarification by 2022 of the scope of the EU competition rules for collective initiatives that promote sustainability in food supply chains.
- An evaluation and revision of the EU animal welfare legislation by 2023.