The transition to a sustainable European food system can bring environmental, health and social benefits at the same time. This was reiterated by the EU Farm to Fork Strategy published on May 20th, 2020. The Strategy is central to the European Green Deal because of the current huge carbon footprint of the European food system (10.3% of all EU GHG emissions) and the need to reduce it drastically on the way to carbon neutrality by 2050. The Strategy is also related to the new Circular Economy Action Plan because of possibilities for circular business models in food processing.

The importance of a resilient food system became even more evident during the Covid-19 crisis. The supply of local quality affordable food and the issues around the sustainable livelihood of farmers were put in the spotlight at a time when international and even national supply chains were disrupted. Due to climate change, the resilience of the food systems is going to be tested time and again during occurrences such as droughts, forest fires, pests, etc.

Time to act more radically

The EC foresees action in several directions to be undertaken by all actors of the food value chain. The first transition should be towards more sustainable food production relying on 'the use of nature-based, technological, digital, and space-based solutions'. The goal is to reward 'all farmers, fishers and other operators in the food chain who have already undergone the transition to sustainable practices'

The circular bio-based economy also holds a huge untapped potential in this respect. The deployment of bio-refineries producing bio-fertilisers, protein feed, bioenergy, etc. will not only improve climate neutrality but create job opportunities. The production of renewable energy from agricultural waste and residues also caters for the GHG emission reduction goals. Organic farming needs to be promoted as it has a positive impact on biodiversity. These approaches are also applicable to fish and seafood production.

Ensuring food security is another important goal of the Strategy. Sufficient, sustainable, quality food should be available at all times as demonstrated through the recent Covid-19 crisis. The whole value chain should become more integrated and resilient to disruptions. The sustainability of the food system is closely linked to the activities along the value chain such as food processing, wholesale, retail, hospitality and food services practices. The practices used by these industries affect hugely the environment. To respond to this, the EC will draft EU Code of conduct for responsible business and marketing practice.

The EC also intends to promote more sustainable food consumption and the shift to healthy, sustainable diets. It is important to reverse the trend in obesity rates through reducing the intake of red meat, sugars, salt and fats. For this to happen, consumers need to be empowered to make informed, healthy choices. Reducing food loss and waste is also central to a sustainability transition. It has a positive economic impact through savings and a positive environmental impact through avoided emissions.

Channelling significant investments to the transition is crucial. While it is expected that the transformation of the sector is taken up by the market, the intention is to support the transition through Cohesion Funds, the EAFRD, CAP and InvestEU Fund. Horizon Europe (HEU) is expected to spend 10 billion EUR on R&I on food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and the environment as well as the use of digital technologies and nature-based solutions for agri-food. In the new HEU mission-oriented approach, there will be a mission in the area of soil health and food. Knowledge and advice are other important factors for this radical shift to take place and the EC will promote an effective Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS). In order for all of these strategic objectives to materialize, the EC will make a legislative proposal for a framework for a sustainable food system before the end of 2023. 

Why is this strategy important for regions and cities? 

As pointed out in the Strategy 'the transition to sustainability of the food system will change the economic fabric of many EU regions'. Regional and local authorities are well-positioned to be active players in the transition by providing the right enabling conditions on local level and by initiating local action. Regions and cities, together with local actors are already undertaking measures related to reducing food waste for example. The transition to a sustainable European food system is directly or indirectly related to a number of Interreg Europe projects approaching the topic from different perspectives. Good practices have already been identified in the process of interregional learning and exchange.

Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform has addressed the topic in a number of resources and events:

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