The droughts, heatwaves, floods and wildfires experienced this year and over the last years are only set to intensify as the planet warms, while loss of pollinators, natural insect predators and soil erosion already severely threaten food production. Ensuring long term food availability in the EU thus requires strengthening the resilience and adaptive capacity of our production systems. Of particular importance is the need to reduce the dependence on imported animal feed and fossil-based fertilisers, and to transition towards healthier and more sustainable diets. These shifts are necessary for the EU to become a net exporter of calories, while it is now a net importer. The SFSF is an opportunity to establish coherent plan for such a transformation, and thus achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal. Undoubtedly this transition will take time, but this is even more reason to agree and implement an ambitious SFSF as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, there has been significant pushback by some against the agrifood aspects of the EU Green Deal, pre-dating the Russian invasion of Ukraine, based on claims of negative impacts on global food security and on the EU’s food sovereignty (defined as strategic autonomy for a series of food products). However, it appears that behind these arguments, what is really at stake is the issue of competitiveness of EU agrifood players, which has been declining over the last two decades.
So let us discuss competitiveness and share in global markets. Very often this discussion focuses on competing on volumes of agricultural output, rather than on value. This is problematic as a major rationale of the EU Green Deal is as a sustainable growth strategy; to provide EU economic sectors with an opportunity and way forward through ecological transformation. They can find a new space and role in a globalised world, both by raising the standards on climate, biodiversity, public health and animal welfare within the EU common market and by acting as frontrunners and standard setters in global markets on these issues. Greater value creation, as well as compliance with higher standards, is therefore critical. Amongst other things, a SFSF would be the foundation for defining standards for whole food chains that would also define the competitive advantage of European players.
Why is this even more necessary in the current context? Three main points need to be considered:
A move to sustainable food systems, both in terms of production and consumption, is critical to meeting the EU’s climate and biodiversity goals and ensuring the long-term competitiveness of its food system. An ambitious SFSF law is therefore urgently needed to drive this transformation and implement the EU Green Deal.
This opinion piece was co-signed by members of the Think Sustainable Europe network:
Ben Allen, Executive Director, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP); Sébastien Treyer, Executive Director, Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI); Camilla Bausch, Scientific & Executive Director, Ecologic Institute; Måns Nilsson, Executive Director, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI); Alexander Müller, Managing Director, TMG – Töpfer Müller Gaßner Gmb; María José Sanz Sánchez, Scientific Director, Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3); Ioli Christopoulou, Policy Director, The Green Tank; Vít Dostál, Executive Director, AMO; Raimondo Orsini, Director, Sustainable Development Foundation.
For further information, download the Think2030 policy briefing “Towards a transformative Sustainable Food Systems Legislative Framework“.