Farm to fork commitments endorsed through a Code of Conduct

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

The European Commission has pledged, and committed within its mandate, to achieve the European Green Deal. Sustainable food systems are an important dimension of the Green Deal and must now focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing biodiversity loss related to food production, whilst shaping a food system that makes it easier to choose a healthy and sustainable diet. 

As an essential part of the EU’s efforts to increase the availability and affordability of healthy and sustainable food options that help reduce the overall environmental footprint, the European Commission has introduced an EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices. The Code has been developed with EU associations, companies and  stakeholders, including international organisations, NGOs and trade unions in collaboration with the Commission services. The organisations that sign the Code commit to accelerate their contribution to a sustainable transition.

This cannot be seen as just another gesture of the European Commission, it must have concrete actions and results as the Commission intends to present the Code in the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit later this year.

A code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the norms, rules, and responsibilities of an organisation – it is not legally binding. However, the effective implementation of any code is only achieved through a learning process, training, consistent enforcement, and continuous monitoring and evaluation. Such voluntary commitments have often proven effective in avoiding the introduction of bureaucratic legislation, or in acting as a precursor to legislation when obligations have not been voluntarily maintained. The EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices is both a commitment of stakeholders and an action of the Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy. 

Sixty-five food manufacturers, food retailers, food service sector and associations have already signed the Code which sets out seven objectives, each with its targets and indicative actions to promote the shift towards healthy and sustainable consumption patterns. The aim is to improve the impact of food processing, retail and food services’ operations on sustainability and to improve the longterm viability of the food value chains. Improved collaboration amongst all actors concerned is hoped to generate new and more ambitious initiatives and build partnerships to stimulate interaction to address the current challenges.

Within the Code is a clear framework to ensure that commitments submitted are tangible, ambitious and in line with the objectives of the Fork to Farm Strategy. Monitoring will be established, with public scrutiny, to prevent companies from signing up for commitments not relevant to their field of activity and to avoid green washing.

There are several financial instruments already in place at EU level, which can be used to support operators in the food supply chain to achieve their green transition. These could be of particular value for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The Commission has said that it will establish a dedicated website to keep companies informed of the available programmes. 

Europe’s farmers are well aware that healthy soils and ecosystems are essential for the resilience of Europe’s food systems. The European food industry is already known for the quality and safety of its products, and have been working towards environmental and climate change reforms for the last decade. Likewise, consumers are becoming much more aware that sustainable food systems are crucial to meet climate and environmental goals, but have still got to be convinced to change their eating habits. Until then, much of the farm to food purchaser chain is at the beck and call of consumer demands.

The introduction of yet another Code of Conduct, particularly for industry to comply with, may be too much at a time when supply, the Covid-19 pandemic and pricing factors are already imposing unrelenting pressures on the food and agriculture sector. Particular for SMEs, the backbone of the agri-food ecosystem, this may be a European Commission trumpet that smaller organisations are unwilling to sound just to make the European Union look good. Nevertheless, there is a threat hanging over the food industry that if it fails to comply with necessary changes, and in the case of insufficient progress, legislative measures will be considered.

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