Industry body slams 'lazy' scapegoating of processed foods in Farm to Fork’s health food strategy

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/mediaphotos
Image: Getty/mediaphotos

Related tags Farm to fork

The European Parliament has signed off the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork plans, with a majority of MEPS voting in favour of the report (453 were for, 170 against, and 76 abstained).

The vote has no legislative value of such but supporters said it reflects the European Parliament’s commitment to the transition to sustainable food systems.

“Our European decision-makers are showing strong commitment to transitioning to fair and sustainable food systems that protect the planet and people. Given the urgency for action, it is now time to move forward on concrete legislative action”,​ said Madeleine Coste, Slow Food Europe’s policy officer. 

The Parliament voted in favour of:

  • Making binding the ambitious targets set by the Farm to Fork Strategy on the reduction of food waste and losses, of the use and risk of pesticides, fertilizers and antimicrobials, and on the uptake of organic agriculture, all of which are crucial to setting in motion the shift to agroecology.
  • Incentivising and rewarding farmers who farm in a way that protects and preserves biodiversity such as through agroecology.
  • Taking a systematic and evidence-based approach to facilitate creating healthy, sustainable, and fair “food environments” instead of relying on voluntary commitments and on individual consumer responsibility to change food systems.
  • Changing our current food production and consumption systems in order to prevent the spread of future zoonotic diseases, and in favour of the phase out of the use of cages in animal farming.

The report that was signed off by MEPS contains further recommendations from Parliament:

Concerning healthier foods, for example, the plans now state that “the EU should provide scientifically based recommendations for healthy eating, including mandatory EU nutrition labeling on the front of packaging.” ​It added that “excessive consumption of meat and highly processed foods with a high salt, sugar or fat content should be restricted, for example by setting maximum intake levels.”

Additional regulatory elements also include:

  • mandatory origin labelling (this may still lead to national segregation of markets, operations and production lines (e.g. separate logistic flows, additional cleaning procedures, etc.).
  • pre-approval procedure for all sustainability claims and labels
  • mandatory labelling schemes for healthy products, indicating whether an ingredient is of synthetic origin when obtained by a chemical synthesis

FoodDrinkEurope, the organisation of Europe’s food and drink industry, said it 'undoubtedly endorses the Commission’s ambitious plan to make food systems more sustainable'. But it added it now wants to see more details, specifically surrounding the health recommendations and nutritional labelling.

FoodDrinkEurope’s Director General, Mella Frewen said “calls for regulatory requirements may pose extra burdens and costs on Europe’s food SMEs by setting maximum limits on some nutrient levels”.

She added the group “regrets that some parts of the Parliament’s Report single out ultra- or highly processed foods for their impact on our health and the environment’, pointing out that the level of processing is not, in itself, a marker of health or sustainability.

“As part of the strong commitment of our industry to help address challenges such as obesity and associated health problems, we would welcome the chance to discuss this complex topic – in all of its facets and its implications for food sustainability – with policymakers."

A FDE spokesperson further revealed: “There are a few parts of the report that refer to overconsumption of highly or ultra-processed foods. We think this is a lazy approach to what is a very complex topic – the level of processing is not a determinant of the health outcome. For example, processing is often used to enhance the micro-nutrients in foods.”​ 

Frewen added that the FDEs remain committed to playing a leading role in the food sustainability transition. “Now that positions on the overall Strategy are clear and we move fully into the implementation phase, we look forward to collaborating with MEPs, other policymakers and stakeholders to make Europe’s food systems truly sustainable,”​ she said.

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