From Farm to Fork – the solution is European action

From Farm to Fork – the solution is European action

By Nicholas Hodac, Director General, UNESDA

The European Commission’s forthcoming Farm to Fork strategy has the chance to provide European society with a comprehensive, EU-wide roadmap to achieve more sustainable food systems by facilitating the shift towards healthy, sustainable diets.

The soft drinks industry is keen to continue to play a constructive role in this transition and has submitted comments to the stakeholder consultation on the strategy’s design and implementation.

To ensure success the Commission’s approach should embrace several key requirements:

Firstly, it should be multi-faceted and involve all stakeholders. Overweight and obesity are complex issues that require a combination of actions. A coordinated approach from governments, industry, the healthcare community and civil society working together is the most efficient way to address healthy diets and ensure results.

Secondly, a sound and convincing science- and evidence-base must serve as the bedrock for all legislative and non-legislative measures. Scientific advice from EFSA needs to be upheld when implementing strategies at EU and national level.

Finally, there should be a harmonised, pan-EU approach. The sustainability of food systems doesn’t stop at our borders and can only be achieved in the context of a strong single market with support from all member states.

The Commission now has a unique opportunity to take action in realising each of these – especially in guarding against fragmentation of the single market which results in consumer confusion together with additional costs and inefficiencies which compromise competitiveness. The bewildering array of front-of-pack nutrition labelling initiatives that have sprung up around Europe are just one example of the consequences of a lack of clear direction or alignment.

The Farm to Fork goal of making healthy diets the easy choice makes perfect sense to us.  Our industry has been reducing sugar and calories since the 1970s – most recently reducing average calories by a further 11.9% between 2015-17 – well ahead of our pledge of 10% less by 2020.

This, combined with our ground-breaking industry-wide commitments such as our 2006 pledge to not market soft drinks to children, demonstrates that we listen closely to our customers, employees and suppliers right across Europe and know what they are looking for. Today, some 25% of soft drinks sold across Europe contain low or no calories – rising to 40% in some countries – and the sector remains the only industry to have officially committed to the EU’s 10% added sugar reduction target[1].

We also urge the Commission to use its Farm to Fork Strategy to maintain momentum and opportunities to drive sugar and calorie reduction across food and drink products. One way to do this would be for policymakers to take a more active role in driving consumer confidence in the safety of low-calorie sweeteners. They are a key tool for achieving sugar reduction and Europe’s citizens would be reassured by reputable, scientific evidence on ingredients which have been evaluated as safe by EFSA and authorised by the European Commission.

UNESDA members have displayed nutrition information front-of-pack since 2006 and we look forward to working with the Commission and other stakeholders to create an EU-wide, harmonised scheme that is under EU governance and provides consumers with meaningful, informative and relevant information. Of course, it also needs to be in line with existing EU legislation – especially the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation.

We want to continue to build more sustainable food systems that place the consumer at their very heart. And we are eager to get to work. Europe’s soft drinks sector looks forward to supporting EU policymakers in taking coordinated, effective and evidence-based action across the entire chain.

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