Overview: EU Farm to Fork and Green Deal Initiatives
Published by AGRINFO on ; Revised
EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy: Current status
This summary highlights the main European Commission initiatives relating to the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy with potential implications for agri-food exports from low- and middle-income countries, as of 20 February 2023
What is changing?
The European Green Deal, adopted end-2019, is a set of policy initiatives that aims to put the EU on the path to a green transition. It sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, with an action plan to boost the efficient use of resources, move to a clean, circular economy, restore biodiversity, and cut pollution. The Farm to Fork Strategy is at the heart of the European Green Deal, aiming to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly. Adopted in May 2020, the strategy sets out both regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives, with the key aims of reducing the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system; ensuring food security in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss; and leading a global transition towards competitive sustainability, from farm to fork.
This summary outlines the main initiatives under the EU Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy that are likely to have an impact on agri-food trade from low- and middle-income countries.
The proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems is one of the flagship initiatives of the Farm to Fork Strategy. In addition to pursuing specific sustainability-related goals, the EU aims to mainstream sustainability in all its policies; this will require a new legal framework for all future food policy/ legislation. The framework is expected to contain (among others) definitions of sustainability, principles on labelling requirements for food products, and minimum criteria for sustainable public procurement of food.
The sustainable food systems proposal aims to raise sustainability standards to become the norm for all food products placed on the EU market, including imported produce. This is intended to be achieved through regulatory and non-regulatory instruments, and indirectly through conditions for trade, including a sustainability chapter in EU bilateral trade agreements. It will be an opportunity to establish key policy-making principles that reflect the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and take into account the specific needs of developing countries. It will require mechanisms within EU policy-making for engagement with low income countries, and the systematic assessment of impacts on low-income countries and the more vulnerable economic players.
Timeline: The proposal is expected in Q3/Q4 of 2023.
Current EU law (Directive 2013/34/EU) requires all large companies, and all companies listed on the stock market, to disclose information on their risks and opportunities arising from social and environmental issues, and on the impacts of their activities on people and the environment. This helps investors, civil society organisations, consumers and other stakeholders to evaluate the sustainability performance of companies.
The new Directive on Sustainability Reporting modernises and strengthens the rules about the social and environmental information that companies have to report. A wider set of large companies, as well as SMEs listed on the stock market, will now be required to report on sustainability. Non-EU companies listed on the stock market that have significant activity in the EU (turnover >€150 million), and a subsidiary in the EU, will also face new reporting obligations. This will put demands on their upstream suppliers to provide information on sustainability.
Timeline: Directive (EU) 2022/2464 was published in December 2022 and entered into force on 5 January 2023. The first companies will have to apply the new rules for the first time in financial year 2024, for reports published in 2025.
The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence. The proposal aims to foster sustainable and responsible corporate behaviour throughout global value chains. Companies play a key role in building a sustainable economy and society. They will be required to identify and, where necessary, prevent, end or mitigate adverse impacts of their activities on human rights (such as child labour and exploitation of workers) and on the environment (for example, pollution and biodiversity loss).
The new obligations on EU companies will intensify scrutiny of environmental and human rights impacts along value chains supplying the EU market. While most non-EU operators are not directly addressed by these obligations, they will nevertheless have to provide information to their EU buyers to demonstrate that they are paying sufficient attention (“due diligence”) to these adverse impacts, and are taking measures to prevent or minimise them. Suppliers will be required to provide additional information according to new reporting mechanisms (to be defined in the proposal).
Timeline: The proposal was adopted by the European Commission on 23 February 2022. The Council of the EU (Member States) and the European Parliament had both reached their negotiating positions by June 2023, and will start negotiations on a final text in Q4 of 2023. Once the EU Directive is finalised, EU Member States must translate it into national law. The new requirements will apply 2 years after the Directive is published, so not before 2026.
EU marketing standards help to improve the quality of products, provide consumers with adequate and transparent information, and improve financial returns to growers by reducing false claims and unfair competition. Some current standards are now becoming outdated and may hinder efforts to make food systems more efficient and sustainable. These proposals aim to update the existing standards to encourage the supply of more sustainable products; simplify current legislation; and align EU rules with requirements under the Lisbon Treaty. The revision of the standards will seek to address sustainability issues such as food waste.
Timeline: The new standards were adopted by the Commission in August and are expected to be published in Q4 of 2023. The new rules will apply from 1 January 2024.
Deforestation and forest degradation are occurring at an alarming rate, aggravating climate change and biodiversity loss. The main driver of deforestation and forest degradation is the expansion of agricultural land to produce commodities such as cattle, wood, palm oil, soy, cocoa or coffee. The objective of this initiative is to curb deforestation and forest degradation resulting from EU consumption and production. It aims to minimise consumption of products coming from supply chains associated with deforestation or forest degradation, and increase EU demand for, and trade in, legal and "deforestation free" commodities and products. This will provide opportunities to enhance trade from non-EU countries in deforestation free products, as well as boosting opportunities, and creating a fairer and more transparent market for suppliers that invest in sustainable, forest-friendly strategies.
EU companies will have to demonstrate that all products sold on the EU market are "deforestation free" and produced in accordance with legislation in the country of origin. To support this due diligence process, producers and exporters will have to provide specific geolocation information linked to individual production plots of land, and demonstrate the right to use that land. The requirements and timescale may be challenging for some small-scale producers, for businesses sourcing from complex value chains with large numbers of smallholders, and for smallholders/ indigenous communities in countries where enforcement of land rights is weak.
Timeline: The Regulation was published in June 2023. The new rules will apply from December 2024.
Today it is difficult for consumers, companies and other market actors to make sense of the many labels and initiatives on the environmental performance of products and companies. There are more than 200 environmental labels active in the EU, and more than 450 worldwide. Some of these are reliable, but some are not, and they are very diverse in the issues they cover. Greenwashing is also a problem, where companies give a false impression of their environmental impact or benefits. This misleads consumers and does not give fair advantage to companies that are making the effort to genuinely green their products and activities. To tackle this issue, the European Green Deal states "Companies making 'green claims' should substantiate these against a standard methodology to assess their impact on the environment".
Under this initiative, new rules will aim to establish a common methodology and enforcement mechanisms for environmental claims for all products (including agri-food). This will provide more consistent information, and prevent companies from making false environmental claims. Given the wide range of private sustainability standards, EU horizontal standards may be simpler for non-EU exporters facing diverging demands. However, there may be technical challenges and associated costs of meeting a broad range of environmental criteria.
Timeline: Proposal published in March 2023. It is now under discussion in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Once adopted, Member States will have 2 years to transpose the Directive into national law.
Sustainability Labelling Framework
Under the Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission announced a proposal for a sustainability labelling framework with the aim of empowering consumers to make informed and sustainable food choices. The proposal will govern the information given to consumers relating to the sustainability of food products, including nutritional, climate, environmental and social aspects. For companies supplying the EU market, this will help sustainable suppliers to differentiate their products, mitigating potential effects of greenwashing.
Timeline: To be included in the Sustainable Food Systems framework expected Q3/Q4 2023.
Origin indication labelling
Indicating the country of origin is currently obligatory for certain specific foodstuffs, such as beef and beef products, fresh fruit and vegetables, fishery products, honey, olive oil and eggs. Under the Farm to Fork Strategy, a proposal is under development to revise the EU rules on information provided to consumers. This includes extending the mandatory origin labelling to other products such as milk, meat used as an ingredient, rabbit and game meat, rice, durum wheat used in pasta, potatoes and tomato products. For non-EU suppliers, origin labelling can enhance the value of products with a strong geographical link in relation to their competitors. However, increasing the amount of origin information enables buyers/ customers/ retailers to become more demanding about specific origin, and could potentially limit opportunities to enter markets. The focus on origin, and preference for local sourcing within the EU, could also reduce demand for imported produce.
Timeline: Proposal expected in Q3/Q4 as part of broader review of food information to consumers.
Nutrient profiles and front-of-pack nutrition labelling
The Farm to Fork Strategy targets the entire food chain, and describes the need to further empower consumers through labelling information. A revision of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (the FIC Regulation) is under way. This includes a proposal for EU harmonised and mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling, and for the setting of nutrient profiling criteria (thresholds of nutrients above or below which nutrition and health claims on foods are restricted). The aim is to encourage EU consumers to make more informed and healthy choices by restricting nutrition and health claims to foods with certain nutrient content, and by harmonising rules on mandatory nutrition labelling. The changes will require adjustments to all packed food exported from non-EU countries to the EU market.
Timeline: Proposal expected in Q3/Q4 as part of broader review of food information to consumers.
The Farm to Fork Strategy announced that by the end of 2023 the Commission will revise the animal welfare legislation to align it with the latest scientific evidence. The revision will also broaden the legislation's scope, make its enforcement easier, and ultimately ensure a higher level of animal welfare. This revision aims to address shortcomings in current animal welfare rules, including lack of adequate animal welfare monitoring, inadequate training or protection of certain species, and insufficient consumer information. The Commission plans to revise the following pieces of legislation: the Directive on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes; four Directives laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens, broilers, pigs and calves; and the Regulations on the protection of animals during transport, and at the time of killing. A proposal on animal welfare labelling is also expected.
For non-EU countries supplying the EU market, this will increase demands for monitoring/ certification, and potentially increase costs to meet more stringent animal welfare requirements.
Timeline: Proposal expected in Q4 of 2023.
The current Feed Additives Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1831/2003) sets out rules for authorising feed additives and placing them on the market. A proposed revision of the rules aims to contribute to a more sustainable food production system by establishing new criteria to promote the authorisation of feed additives with positive effects on animal welfare and on the environment. It will support mechanisms to promote innovation in feed additives, particularly those contributing to reducing the use of antibiotics and mitigating climate change. Additional aims include streamlining the processes of risk assessment, and reducing the administrative burden for authorisation holder applications, to bring innovative feed additives to the market earlier.
Timeline: The legislative proposal is likely to be postponed to 2025.
The European Commission has adopted proposals for a new Regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products, in line with the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies. These new proposals, adopted on 22 June 2022, are part of a package of measures to reduce the environmental footprint of the EU’s food system and help mitigate the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. The main measures include: legally binding targets to reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50%, and use of the more hazardous pesticides, by 2030; environmentally friendly pest control, ensuring that farmers and other professional pesticide users practice integrated pest management (IPM); and a ban on all pesticides in sensitive areas, including ecologically sensitive areas to be preserved for threatened pollinators.
The proposed Regulation addresses the use of plant protection products within the EU, and does not include provisions for operators in non-EU countries. However, changes in authorisations, and the loss of EU maximum residue levels (MRLs), will reduce the availability of plant protection products for use on crops for export to the EU. This could limit the ability of producers to combat pests and diseases, with important implications for those in high pest-pressure areas. Some solutions available to EU producers (e.g. new chemicals or technologies) may not be available in low- and middle-income countries.
Timeline: The Commission’s proposal is now under discussion in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The Parliament is expected to reach a negotiating position in Q4 of 2023. The Council asked the Commission for an additional assessment of the Regulation’s impact on food security. This report was published and discussed by the Council in July 2023.
The European Commission has adopted new rules to facilitate the approval of microorganisms for use as active substances in plant protection products. The aim is to simplify the risk assessment of microorganisms and bring them to the EU market more quickly. This will increase the availability of, and access to, biological plant protection products, in line with the Farm to Fork Strategy objective of reducing dependency on chemical pesticides. The more rapid development of this technology in Europe could accelerate the availability of non-chemical options in non-EU countries.
Timeline: Four Regulations were published 1 September 2022.
In 2001 the EU established rules for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (Directive 2001/18/EC). Since then, new genomic techniques (NGTs) have been developed, which the European Commission believes can benefit farmers, consumers and the environment. However, the current rules make it challenging for products from these NGTs to enter the EU market. So the Commission is proposing new rules with two different categories of NGT plants/products. The first category of plant/products are considered equivalent to those produced through regular breeding, and will not have to follow current EU GMO rules (Directive 2001/18/EC and Regulation 1830/2003). They only need to be notified/verified by the EU (but not risk assessed) before being introduced to the market. The second category are NGT plants/products not equivalent to those produced by conventional breeding. These must undergo risk assessment and authorisation under the existing GMO rules.
Timeline: Stakeholders (including from non-EU countries) can give their views on the EU proposal via the Commission’s website, Legislation for plants produced by certain new genomic techniques, until 2 November 2023.
Regulation (EU) 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods repeals the previous rules (Regulation (EC) No 282/2008). The new legislation forms part of the measures being brought forward under the EU Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). The changes are designed to reduce dependency on raw materials, boost the market for recycled plastics, and ensure that recycled plastics are safe when used in contact with food. Components of food contact materials can transfer from packaging materials into food, affecting not only the safety of the food but also the quality, taste, smell and appearance. The new Regulation sets out rules to ensure the safety of these materials, including the decontamination of plastic during recycling, and regulation of all recycling processes. Recycling installations located outside the EU must be on the EU register, and must fully comply with the new Regulation, if their recycled plastic is to be used on food products placed on the EU market.
Timeline: Regulation entered into force 10 October 2022.
On 30 November 2022 the European Commission published a Proposal for revision of the EU legislation on packaging and packaging waste. The overarching objectives of the Proposal are to reduce the negative environmental impacts of packaging and packaging waste. There are three main objectives: to prevent the generation of packaging waste, reduce the quantity, restrict unnecessary packaging, and promote reusable and refillable solutions; to boost high-quality (closed loop) recycling, making all packaging on the EU market recyclable in an economically viable way by 2030; and to reduce the need for primary natural resources and create a well-functioning market for secondary raw materials by increasing the use of recycled plastics in packaging through mandatory targets.
For non-EU countries, the proposal includes obligations that will have to be met by exporters of packaged food products supplying the EU market, within 1 year of the Regulation’s entry into force. It will create new requirements for information (technical documentation and conformity declaration) which could imply additional costs/ administrative burdens for businesses. Exporters of packaged food will also need an appointed packaging representative in each Member State to which they export. There are specific requirements concerning the use of single-use plastic packaging, single-use composite packaging, or other single-use packaging that affects, in particular, exports of fresh fruit and vegetables in smaller quantities (less than 1.5 kg).
Timeline: The Commission’s proposal is now under discussion in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. The Parliament is expected to reach its negotiating position in Q4 of 2023, and negotiations in the Council are still ongoing. Depending on progress in negotiations, the new rules could apply from 2026.
The transition to a circular, resource-efficient and climate-neutral economy, together with the ambition to reach zero pollution and the need to protect and enhance biodiversity, have triggered an overall rethink about how plastics are produced, used and disposed of in the EU. A Communication has been issued outlining the EU policy framework on biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics. It sets out the EU vision for tackling plastic pollution through the development of alternative plastics (e.g. biobased, biodegradable and compostable plastics) rather than fossil-based plastics.
Timeline: Communication published November 2022.
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