The future of the EU’s Agri-food Promotion Policy is currently the focus of a major review to ensure that such policy can be brought in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy, while staying true to its competitiveness goals.

At an agri-food conference this week – part of a wider consultation on the policy – a key message put forward was that any future policy must be inclusive of all agri-food sectors.

A 12-week public consultation process on agri-food promotion policy recently ended, which garnered feedback on different policy options designed to ensure that future EU agri-food promotion policy will support more sustainable food systems.

Part of that consultation found that 80% of ‘citizens and civil society organisations’ want to exclude products not sustainably produced and not in line with more plant-based diets from future agri-food promotion.

There was also consensus to adjusting the scope of the policy to focus on raising awareness of sustainability, climate change action and respect for the environment, animal welfare, and contribution to balanced diets and health.

Change is certainly on the horizon.

Agri-food promotion 2021

This year, the European Commission will spend €182.9 million in promoting agri-food products across Europe, and beyond.

Of this, €86 million will go towards promoting organic products, sustainable agriculture and the role of agri-food in relation to climate action and the environment.

Of this figure, around €49 million will be directed at the promotion of just organic production; €19.1 million will be spent on the promotion of fruit and vegetables; and €18 million will be spent on the promotion of sustainable production.

As the European Commission proceeds with shaping a Green Deal-friendly agri-food promotion policy, it is being asked to ensure that no sector is excluded.

Bord Bia’s director of Origin Green, Deirdre Ryan

Farmers – part of the solution

Taking part in a panel discussion at this week’s conference, Bord Bia’s director of Origin Green and quality-assurance programmes, Deirdre Ryan, said:

“Farmers and food producers are key to solving this environmental issue and a partnership approach is really what is needed for the environment, and the competitiveness of our sector.”

Farm to Fork Strategy – a reminder
It aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system that should:
1. Have a neutral or positive environmental impact;
2. Help to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts;
3. Reverse the loss of biodiversity;
4. Ensure food security, nutrition and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food;
5. Preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade.

Commenting on the preliminary results of the public consultation, she said that initiatives like Origin Green, the Rural Environmental Protective Scheme and European Innovation Partnership Scheme incentivise and encourage farmers to “promote biodiversity, improve water quality and help climate change”.

“My point is, there is a lot of work already being done by European farmers. They are focused on driving quality and sustainability in food production,” she continued.

“There are other voluntary initiatives too and the Farm to Fork Strategy aims to reward those who are transitioning to sustainable practices.

“So, a policy that seeks to discriminate against any one sector, which was the preference of the majority of the citizen response, I feel, goes against a lot of what has been done by the farming community and what farmers are being asked to do in the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP],” she said.

Ryan added that farm families are proving to be a key part of the solution – excluding them and seeing them as part of the problem “would not be preferable”. 

“If we begin excluding sectors from future promotion, we risk losing the opportunity to capitalise on those unique selling points and points of differentiation that we have.

“European farming has invested heavily in quality, health, traceability and sustainability now too and I think these should continue – consistent with Farm to Fork and future policies – to be the main drivers of promotional activity.

“In Bord Bia, we believe that animal proteins – dairy, egg, meat – and seafood, together with plant-based produce, have a key role to play in a sustainable diet. We would need the policy approach to be inclusive and balanced.”

‘Organic farming is just one method’

The EU is the largest exporter of food and drinks in the world, reaching a value of about €120 billion in 2019. The food and drink industry comprises of 4.8 million workers and more than 290,000 companies – and it buys more than 70% of all the agricultural production in the EU

Mella Frewen, director general of Food Drink Europe, also highlighted inclusivity as a cornerstone of any future agri-food promotion policy and said sustainability, in all its dimensions, must be considered.

Director general, Food Drink Europe, Mella Frewen

The Irish native said Food Drink Europe had six asks of the policy:

“The policy should be inclusive of all agri-food products and there should be no discrimination based on nutritional content, for example. All farm food and drink products can be part of a healthy diet, if consumed in moderation.

“Secondly, we think that the policy must provide an incentive for the adoption of more sustainable practices and, once again, there should be no discrimination based on production methods.

“There are many different sustainable practices and organic farming is just one method. In fact, the agri-food sector is constantly moving towards a transition to more sustainable food systems,” she said.

Third on the list was a request for an ‘extended list of eligible products’ that reflects the huge diversity of EU food and drink produce; fourth was that the policy should be market-driven; a strong budget that is distributed fairly was number five; and, finally, the policy must be a “tool to strengthen EU leadership on sustainability on a global level”.

In highlighting the importance of agri-food promotion policy, she added:

“It raises the profile of EU products, and awareness of their production standards, and it has been proven to contribute to competitiveness of the sector.

“So future promotion policy must build on its past successes,” she said.