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Strategic Dialogue: Real intent or delaying tactic?

The future of Europe’s Food Systems hangs in the balance


Imagine a Europe where farmers receive a fair return for their produce, workers’ rights are respected, and farmed animals live a good life. A Europe where consumers are not misled, food is not wasted, fewer people die from diet-related diseases or go to bed hungry. A Europe where biodiversity is protected – and fully embraced – by farming systems, and water and other finite resources are safeguarded.

This Europe is well within reach.   

For the last three years, the European Commission has worked on developing a proposal for a Sustainable Food Systems Law which would allow Europe to initiate its transition towards a food and farming system that would ensure that healthy and sustainable food is accessible to all whilst respecting planetary boundaries.   

One step forward, two steps back  

In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, it is clear that Europe’s food systems need a radical change. But when you exit the science lab and enter the political debate there is an aggressive and vocal defence of the status quo. Who from? Large farming lobbies, influential farm ‘leaders’ and even some elected officials with deep (and often dubious) links to agro-industry are pushing back against a much-needed transition in favour of short-term profits. Sadly, populistic anti-environmental sentiment and misinformation have been widely employed to this end.  

More worryingly, this short-sighted outlook seems to have worked its way to the top, as the Commission’s proposal for a Sustainable Food Systems Law ultimately failed to materialise under this Commission. Instead, the Commission has opened a “Strategic Dialogue on the future of EU agriculture”. 

But haven’t we just done that?   

Following over three years of extensive stakeholder consultations designed to discuss different aspects of our agrifood system’s transition (organised and managed by the Commission using public money) this statement begs the question: haven’t we already had that strategic dialogue? 

At worst, it will be a tokenistic box-ticking exercise or political stunt ahead of the elections. At best, a genuine attempt at solving the clear polarisation currently defining the food systems debate. If it is the latter, then the exchange will only be successful if the underlying problems are addressed. Populistic agendas and unmovable industry views cannot be placed against sound science and enabling a meaningful exchange among stakeholders. The starting point of any dialogue must be a clear acknowledgment of the scientific consensus: the need to urgently shift to socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable food systems. Therefore, the starting question should be: how can policies support and drive this change through a just transition, and how can they do that with the full support of all actors across the food chain?  

The costs of further delays are serious and already starting to pile up. The EU’s current agri-food system is the largest driver for biodiversity loss in Europe and contributes around 30% of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions. Without food system sustainability there can be no food security or real climate action. Europe must anchor its political action to science and stand by the Commission’s own Farm to Fork Strategy, ensuring that all food system actors – starting with farmers and fishers – are fully involved and supported in the transition. There needs to be an understanding of the changes that need to take place and a drive to continue working on a pathway ahead.  

All eyes on EU  

The EEB will join 29 other organisations (representing stakeholders from across the food value chain) in Brussels to begin the all-important dialogue – which can and must contribute positively to the EU’s efforts to build a sustainable food system. With multiple stakeholders’ committing yet more time, effort, and resources to collectively forge a pathway forward, we expect the European Commission to allow enough time and space for a real discussion to take place, supported by impartial facilitation and moderation, equally acknowledging all stakeholders and their requests. Most importantly there must be a clear and unflinching commitment to act on the outcomes of the Dialogue.

If the Commission achieves this and the Dialogue is based on sound science, it can contribute meaningfully to the EU’s transition to sustainable food systems. But that will require the will and courage to set aside self-serving political ambitions and enable progress towards the big picture which is in the interest of us all: creating agri-food systems which bring the economy and society within safe and fair planetary boundaries, safeguarding long-term food security, human and animal health, farmers’ livelihoods and environmental wellbeing. And what’s not to like about that outcome? 

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