Food industry unites behind code of conduct, but loopholes remain for food system transformation

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The European Commission this morning organized a “high level festive event” to mark the launch of the EU Code of Conduct for Responsible Food Trade and Marketing.

“The Code is one of the first deliverables of the Farm to Fork strategy. This could go a long way in helping the transition to a sustainable food system. And it doesn’t happen a day too early ”,EU Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in her prepared remarks.

This code is part of the EU’s efforts to increase the availability and accessibility of healthy and sustainable food options. It shows that the signatories – 65 major companies and industry associations to date – are “ready to play their part in helping to transform food systems,” according to the document.

Presented by the EC as a “game changer”, the Code’s objective is to galvanize food system actors to unite behind a “common aspiration path”. “For this Code to be a success, it must demonstrate a contribution to the environmental, health and social sustainability of food systems, while ensuring the economic sustainability of the European food value chain.the notes of the document.

It has attracted support from a variety of large CPG and retail organizations, from PepsiCo, Nestlé and Coca-Cola to Albert Heijn and Sodexo. It provides a framework for “pioneers” to set “ambitious commitments” with “measurable results” on topics as broad as sugar reduction, animal welfare and emissions.

“Sustainability needs all hands on the bridge”

Commissioner Kyriakides was keen to stress the importance of working across the industry to support the transformation of the food system.

“Sustainability needs everyone on deck and we can all collectively do more,“she insisted. “By working together, all of us – from the agricultural sector, through the food value chain to the end consumer, from the local to the global level – can bring about change for the better. “In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Welcoming the launch of the Code, the great and good of the European food industry have aligned themselves in welcoming what Ahold Delhaize CEO Frans Muller described as “one of the first important milestones in the strategy of the Farm to Fork Commission ”.

Dirk Jacobs, Managing Director of FoodDrinkEurope and chairman of the working group that produced the agreement, stressed that it provides a basis from which further collaborative actions can be taken.

There must be a joint approach between government action and industry action, he said, taking as an example the development of a circular economy for plastics.
“We want to achieve full packaging circularity by 2030… We cannot do it alone. We depend on the authorities at Member State level ”,He explained, stressing the need to develop an appropriate infrastructure to support the industry’s efforts on plastics.

FoodDrinkEurope is a long-time advocate for harmonization across the single market and the CEO of the industry association took the opportunity to outline the benefits of a united approach across the bloc. “We still have a lot of fragmentation within the single market which is an obstacle to companies’ sustainable development efforts. “In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Speaking at the digital event, Denis Machuel, CEO of Sodexo, also relied on a collective approach to meet the challenges of the food system. “This collaborative process gives us the opportunity to rethink how we can do it together”,noted the CEO of the only catering operator to sign up. “No company, no matter how small, can do it alone. “In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

However, as with any collaborative effort, the need to ensure alignment is not without implications. As FDE’s Jacobs noted: “[The Code] brings together a lot of different players and we have to compromise here and there.In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

When evaluating the transformative potential of this collaborative framework, it is worth considering the remaining sticking points – and whether compromises could ultimately undermine the “shifting” ambitions of Code architects.

Balancing environmental, social and economic goals

Perhaps the most fundamental compromise represented by the Code is that found between the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic impacts.

“To ensure continuous improvement, it is important to ensure stability and equity between the three pillars of sustainability”Said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of the Copa Cogeca. “European farmers and agricultural cooperatives have stressed that it is fundamental that this code promotes competitiveness [of European agriculture]… While contributing to a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable food sector.In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Representing the interests of European farmers and their cooperatives, Pesonen questioned the definition of “sustainability” contained in the document. “Regarding sustainability, the current version of the Code does not reflect that there are different degrees of sustainability. It sticks to the principle that food systems are either sustainable or unsustainable ”,he noted.

Rejecting this polarized characterization, Pesonen argued that European farmers have been working on sustainability for ‘decades’.We do not sufficiently recognize the efforts made by European primary processors to produce high quality food in a sustainable way. By definition, European farmers are already sustainable.In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Pesonen suggested he would like the Code of Conduct to place more emphasis on ethical business practices. The 2019 Unfair Commercial Practices Directive does not address ethical behavior in business-to-business relationships. This, he said, should be a “central aspect” of the new Code.

Promote a healthier food environment

Along with the environmental agenda and relations with the supply chain, the signatories of the Code have also made commitments related to improving nutritional results. These include multiple voluntary commitments around marketing unhealthy foods and drinks to children.

However, how healthy choices can be promoted and communicated emerged as another point of contention this morning, with various responses to the Nutri-Score program which has gained popularity across much of Europe.

Pesonen believes that Nutri-Score is not an effective tool for communicating with consumers. “Nutri-Score is an oversimplification of the standards we must follow in our dealings with consumers. It does not address the diverse nature, character and cultural heritage of the European agri-food chain … It cannot serve as a reference for consumer information. “In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Muller from Ahold Delhaize disagreed, suggesting that this is a partial response to the challenge of tilting the food environment towards healthier choices. As part of its Code commitments, the retailer has set a target for 52% of its own-label sales to be healthy by 2025. It described Nutri-Score as a “pragmatic and functional system that helps customers make healthier choices ”.

For Wouter Vermeulen, director of public policy at Coca-Cola, understanding the tensions within the supply chain – of the impact that a reduction in pesticide use would have on farmers upon adoption of the FOP nutritional labeling – and the necessary tradeoffs and tradeoffs is one of the outcomes of this collaborative approach, with the EC acting as the convener of the discussion.

The opportunity here is that the Code of Conduct takes us out of a one-issue approach. To identify opportunities or co-benefits … [and] where there are compromises and conflicts ”,he told FoodNavigator. “The real work is just beginning now. “In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

A code for the industry, by industry?

Milka Sokolović, Director General of the European Health Alliance, spoke today on behalf of all civil society organizations that have contributed to the development of the code, including the European consumer organization EUFIC and WWF conservationists. She suggested that while civil society supports “an ambitious agenda” that “allows for buy-in from winding companies,” there are a number of areas that remain of concern and which ultimately characterize the Code as a mixed bag.

For representatives of European civil society, voluntary approaches are simply not strict enough. “In order to enable efficient and equitable transformation towards sustainable and healthy food systems, regulatory measures that define common goals for all should be the main drivers of change”Sokolović insisted.

Voluntary initiatives like the Code can be “useful”, but they should not be invoked as alternatives to binding measures.

Interestingly, Coca-Cola’s Vermeulen also highlighted the need for leadership at the political level to support systems transformation, suggesting that the company supports regulation alongside voluntary efforts. “It’s not either or, it’s a smart mix. It helps promote a level playing field. “In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

However, noted the Coca-Cola policy maker, in the context of the 2030 targets, the industry does not necessarily have the luxury of waiting for policy levers to be pulled. “We all know that legislation could take a long time to be adopted at EU level.”In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

Sokolović revealed a number of areas in which NGOs want to go further and faster. “We want the Code to be more explicit about the need to shift to plant-based diets with less but better animal products and we want it to address issues of accessibility to healthy and sustainable food.In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

“We see this as code for industry and by industry.”In addition to this, you need to know more about it.

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