On Friday Freshfel Europe met the Czech Republic Deputy Minister of Agriculture, the EU Member State currently in charge of the rotating Presidency of the Council to the European Union, to discuss sector matters in view of the European agenda. This was the opportunity to review current sector challenges relating to production, trade and consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. On this occasion, a comprehensive review of topics on the European agenda was undertaken in a constructive dialogue for the benefit of the role of the sector and the positioning of fresh produce in the diet of European consumers.
On 30 September a delegation of Freshfel Europe, led by its President Salvo Laudani and its General Delegate Philippe Binard, held a meeting in Prague with Mr Jiří Šír, Deputy Minister of Agriculture in the context of the Czech Republic currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This was the opportunity to review a wide range of topics relevant for the fruit and vegetable sector, which are key in the current context of endangered food security.
Philippe Binard, Freshfel Europe General Delegate commented, “We are pleased that we could raise many important issues for the sector during the meeting”. The competitiveness of the sector is today at stake given a combination of factors. He added, “We had a constructive solution-oriented discussion on many aspects of the fresh produce business impacting its competitiveness covering topics of very high importance for the sector. This included the impact of rising costs (energy, production inputs), the consequences of workers’ shortage (seasonal workers, truck drivers), the effect of climate change on production, the disruptive elements linked to the revision of the sustainable use regulation and the endangered accessibility of plant protection products under the reduction target of the Farm to Fork Strategy. The need for a good balance between IPM and organic production according to market expectations was also highlighted”. Moreover, under the current disruptive times and geopolitical instability, Freshfel Europe experts also had the opportunity to tackle matters relating to market access and global logistic challenges. The discussion came at a timely moment when so many relevant issues for fresh produce are on the table of the EU Council, the European Parliament, as well as the European Commission.
The Freshfel Europe Board, which met in mid-September, agreed on the urgency to uplift the voice and the reputation of the sector, and further raise the image of fruit and vegetables. Salvo Laudani affirmed that, “Freshfel needs to take the lead on action that can reinforce the reputation of the sector and build a stronger position for fresh produce in the European citizens diet priorities. The consumption trends are still well below the WHO minimum 400g recommendation. We expect further pressure as already noted in recent consumers’ behaviour, deeply impacted by inflation and skyrocketing energy bills”. This further consumption decrease comes even though fresh produce has much to provide in terms of health benefits for consumers, while also being the food category with the lowest environmental impact for the planet. During the meeting with the Czech rotating Presidency of the EU, Freshfel Europe additionally reminded that the fresh produce sector is part of the solution to many of the EU’s ambitions under the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Beating Cancer Plan and FIT for 55 Package.
In this context it is therefore crucial that the environmental, social and economic sustainability of fresh produce is well protected so that the sector can fully contribute to achieving these goals. The sector always demonstrated its resilience while crossing crises. The rentability and profitability of the sector need to be guaranteed, as the GREEN Deal can not be achieved with RED figures in the finance of companies. Egle Baecke, Director for Food Quality at Freshfel Europe stressed that “Fruit and vegetables should be well positioned in European regulations and in the food assortment as ‘essential goods’. To fully play its role, the long-term competitiveness and profitability of the sector should be an absolute priority, while solutions to the challenges need to be implemented in a timely manner, be pragmatic, cost effective and not burdensome, otherwise over time they may generate new food security concerns”. In the current context she added, “Solutions to be addressed should not lead to further dependency, while a careful and coherent approach between different policy objectives is much needed”.
In the coming months Freshfel Europe will continue to raise the profile of the sector and the image of fruit and vegetables to decision makers and consumers. The sector has significant potential to provide solutions to societal concerns, however fruit and vegetables should be fully considered as essentials goods.
Note to the Editors: Freshfel Europe is the European Fresh Produce Association, representing the interests of the fresh fruit and vegetables supply chain in Europe and beyond. Freshfel Europe currently has over 200 members, including both companies and associations. For more information, please contact Philippe Binard at firstname.lastname@example.org.