Climate change, the impacts of extreme weather on fresh produce, the threat on the functioning of the Single Market, the unique and positive position of fresh fruits and vegetables in sustainable systems and how to communicate and showcase this through aligned accountability and reporting standards. These are just a few of the topics that were discussed earlier this week by Freshfel Europe’s board during the two-day gathering in Brussels with policymakers and other stakeholders. Through informal meetings with Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the European Commission Freshfel Europe continues to advocate for solutions to the challenges, but most importantly to build a brighter future on opportunities in shaping the road for an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable fresh produce sector.
On 18 and 19 September the Freshfel Europe’s board members gathered in Brussels to discuss the current landscape and trends in the fresh produce sector. The meetings started with an informal cocktail dinner in the European Parliament, organised in cooperation with MEP Paolo de Castro and MEP Jérémy Decerle. At the dinner, MEPs from across the political spectrum and from across the EU met with members of the Freshfel Europe board, who represent a range of countries and segments of the European fresh produce chain. In his welcome speech, Freshfel Europe’s President Salvo Laudani stated: “We should already look ahead and start shaping the upcoming priorities for the European Commission and the European Parliament for 2024 European election. To fulfil the strategies of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork, fruits and vegetables must be granted status as essential goods, recognizing the nutritional, environmental and economic assets of fresh produce.”
On the following day, Freshfel Europe held its bi-annual board meeting in the center of Brussels European’s district. The sector is in many ways well prepared and well positioned for the road towards sustainable food systems. Fresh produce has among the smallest environmental impacts of all food categories and provides consumers with a wide and diversified range of fresh produce with the highest health and nutritional benefits. In many cases, the sector’s activities go or have the possibility to go, above and beyond and serve as a big enabler for instance on the move to biodiversity, soil health, water management, carbon management and renewable energy production in manners that benefit both society and fresh produce production. The fresh produce industry also contributes to social and economic sustainability through its contribution to public health and creating job opportunities, particularly in rural areas.
For these assets to be fully exploited, suitable policy tools for the sector must be provided. Without support and coherence from policymakers, the opportunities for sustainability are severely diminished. Mr Laudani stated: “Good ideas lose their value when implemented incoherently: move to a plant diet but with limited promotion for the sector; less l plant protection products but no available alternatives to address diseases on the fields or effect of climate change; a demanded increase for organic production area but no efforts to ensure a corresponding growth of consumer’s demand; less packaging and less food waste but no alternatives to maintain shelf life and prevent damage, ultimately leading to a further decline of consumption. Without policy coherence the EU will never be able to achieve its goals.”
The board members of Freshfel Europe also addressed the increasingly serious impacts of climate change and extreme weather events for the sector, challenging the sustainability strategy as well. Some impacts which reached production basins across Europe include the droughts in Spain which put some operators out of business, and the floods in Emilia Romagna which reduced some crop yields by almost 80%. Climate change is also severely impacting some of our suppliers from outside the European Union.
The unpredictability of extreme weather events, their devastating impact on production, and the subsequent adjustments of trade flows hampers the economic sustainability of operators and decreases the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables across Europe. Freshfel Europe’s General Delegate Philippe Binard states: “Climate change is bringing an increasing number of extreme weather as well as increasing number of known and unknown pests and diseases. Not only is this having a severe impact on harvests, through flooded fields, cracking fruits or dried-up soils, but it is also impacting and creating uncertainties in investments for the sector. Long-term strategies must be combined with short-term solutions to support growers in becoming more resilient to extreme climate events, and to be able to mitigate the impacts, for instance through supporting investments in specialized equipment, early warning systems and innovation”.
The board meeting was concluded with a lunch together with officials from the European Commission during which time the Freshfel Europe board members and the Commission officials had time to converse and exchange on current topics relating to fruits and vegetables. Trade policy, marketing standards and promotion were intensively discussed. Mr Binard concluded by looking ahead at the upcoming political reorganisations in the EU and the position of fresh produce in EU policy for the years to come: “The ambitions of the sector and of the European institutions must be upheld while securing the competitiveness of operations in times of climate change, economic hardships and swiftly changing geopolitical environments.” He finally urged decision-makers to be vigilant and ensure that the good functioning of the Single Market is not endangered. Policy delays, regulatory incoherence or inconsistency with market expectations as well as growing protectionism leave the door open to national rules that will restrict the free movement of goods in the EU and have huge costs for the sector to overcome.
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 Joanna Nathanson at firstname.lastname@example.org.