According to an open letter sent to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and signed by 286 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the European Union needs to develop a plan for its 44 member states to transition to more sustainable food systems.
The letter was prompted by a leaked document that revealed the EU Commission’s concerns about opposition to its upcoming EU Sustainable Food Systems Act. Scheduled for fall this year, the legislation will be based on the Farm to Fork Strategy (FFS), a key component of the European Green Deal, which revolves around four pillars: sustainable food production; sustainable food processing and distribution; sustainable food consumption; and prevention of food loss and waste.
“Biodiversity loss and climate change are serious threats to food security and require immediate action, as the European Commission emphasized in its analysis of ‘Drivers for Food Security’. It is clear and scientifically proven that their effects are already hampering our ability to produce and access food,” The letter said.
Groups calling on the EU to lead the way to a sustainable global food system include a wide range of NGOs such as Compassion in Global Farming, Friends of the Earth and WWF.
“Strengthening environmental and social sustainability will increase the resilience and security of our food system to external shocks,” the letter said. “For this reason, the European Commission must put environmental and social sustainability at the center of policy debates on food, agriculture and fisheries.”
The letter was issued as a way to show the EU commissioner that these nearly 300 influential groups stand together to support a sustainable food law. “We recognize that this transition will present its own challenges and may create some resistance, but the EU and the rest of the world cannot afford inaction,” the letter said.
What is a sustainable food system?
A growing body of research shows that a food system that relies on industrial animal agriculture is unsustainable. And a shift to a plant-based food system brings major environmental benefits. For example, according to one report, food-related carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 70 percent (or 9.6 billion tons) if the current meat-eating population became vegetarian.
FFS is based on the latest climate science. In the EU, more than 10 percent of greenhouse gases come from food-related emissions, most of which (around 70 percent) can be attributed to animal agriculture.
“We must move forward and make the EU food system a driving force for sustainability,” Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said in a statement when the FFS was first adopted in 2020. “The farm to fork strategy is a positive difference in how we produce, purchase and consume our food that will benefit the health of our citizens, society and environment.”
“This gives us the opportunity to reconcile our food system with the health of our planet, to ensure food security and to meet Europeans’ desire for healthy, equitable, and environmentally friendly food,” Kyriakides said.
The plant-based diet transition in Europe
Some European regions are already taking initiatives themselves to design programs that advance sustainability goals.
Green Protein Alliance
The Green Protein Alliance (GPA) has just launched its multifaceted strategy called “Plant-Based Together” as a pilot program in the Dutch city of Altena. Here, ambassadors work with supermarkets, schools and restaurants to encourage local people to choose plant-based foods more often. Target? Shift city populations to a 50:50 ratio of plant-based and animal-based protein in their diets by 2025.
Also in the Netherlands, family-owned company Schouten is working to develop new products with sustainability in mind. The company recently partnered with fellow Dutch company Grassa to produce plant protein directly from grass, effectively cutting out cows as an intermediary in meat production.
The upcoming innovations will support the Netherlands’ national protein strategy, which aims to reduce dependence on imported soy and, over the next 5 to 10 years, shift to locally produced plant-based protein.
Germany is also finalizing its national protein strategy by the end of the year Key points outlining its core values were published in a paper in January. Here, the government is embracing the need to reduce meat consumption and focus on plant-based proteins as a way to achieve its goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2045.
“The transition of the entire food system towards a plant-based diet is the most important adjusting screw in the nutrition sector to achieve our national and international climate, biodiversity and sustainability goals,” the German government-issued paper said.
Globally, plant-based contracting (PBT) is a doctrine that is gaining traction among government municipalities worldwide. PBT is predicated on three principles: abandonment (stopping the expansion of animal agriculture to prevent environmental destruction); redirection (moving towards a plant-based food system); and restore (renew natural habitats to restore balance).
PBT was designed to give governments a framework to transition their regions to more sustainable practices, and is now supported by more than 20 municipal governments worldwide.
Plant Based Contracts
Last month, Edinburgh in Scotland became the first capital city to sign the PBT and is currently working to develop an action plan and implementation strategy of the key principles of the agreement.
“Signing the agreement means we take our climate commitments seriously and recognize the science behind the climate emergency,” City of Edinburgh councilor Ben Parker said in a statement at the time. “That is, to know that food systems are key drivers of emissions, and that plant-based foods must be identified as part of the solution to climate change.”