SUSTAINABILITY A KEY FOCUS OF NEW EU CODE OF CONDUCT

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Dozens of food companies and associations have signed up to a new European Union pledge that aims to improve sustainability within the sector.

Well-known names such as Carrefour, Fyffes, Nestle and Tesco have become signatories to a code of conduct described as an “essential part” of the EU’s efforts to reduce the environmental impact of food production.

The EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices is part of the bloc’s Farm to Fork Strategy and aims to, for example, cut carbon emissions and improve biodiversity and animal welfare.

Officials have warned that if progress by voluntary measures is inadequate, they may get tough and bring in legislation to mandate change.

The pledge, commits signatories to “accelerate their contribution to a sustainable transition” and encourage other companies to join.

Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, said in a statement that improvements in sustainability in the food system should happen soon.

“We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt biodiversity loss related to food production, and shape a food system that makes it easier to choose a healthy and sustainable diet,” he said.

“I am encouraged by ambitions of the stakeholders who have already signed up to the EU Code of Conduct.”

The hope is that the code of conduct will operate in a dynamic way, with commitments strengthening over time, new initiatives brought in and additional members joining.

The European Commission organised discussions in January about the code of conduct, which is one of the Farm to Fork Strategy’s first initiatives.

According to the commission, it “covers all major aspects” of sustainability in the food system.

The Farm to Fork Strategy itself is, says the commission, “an integral part” of the European Green Deal and aims to transform how food is produced, distributed and consumed.

Voluntary initiatives, such as giving consumers better information on products’ sustainability credentials, are among the range of measures being deployed.

The approach also includes ensuring that EU consumers have sustainable products available to them when they are shopping.

Because of the “key role” that organisations in the middle of the food chain have across the sector “both upstream and downstream”, the commission says voluntary initiatives are an “essential” complement to legislation.

“As set out in the Farm to Fork Strategy, the commission will monitor the commitments and consider legislative measures if progress is insufficient,” the commission’s statement said.

For companies, the code of conduct includes commitments covering areas such as animal welfare, sugar content and greenhouse gas emissions.

Firms will submit a report each year to indicate their progress on sustainability.

Other companies to have joined include AB Inbev, Ahold Delhaize, Eroski and Kellogg’s, while EU associations including CropLife Europe and the European Fresh Produce Association (Freshfel) have also signed up.

European Flour Millers, Independent Retail Europe and Unesda, which represents the European soft drinks industry, are additional associations to have joined.

There are seven objectives for associations, all linked to efforts to make food processing, retail and food service healthier and more sustainable.

Like companies who are signed up to the programme, associations are expected to file a report annually on their performance with regard to sustainability.

“Today we are marking one of the first deliverables in our work under the Farm to Fork Strategy towards a healthy and environmentally-friendly food system,” said Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

“Close cooperation between all actors is essential to achieve a successful transition to sustainable food systems.”

The new sustainability code of conduct was announced shortly after the European Commission announced its intention to ban the use of cages for farm animals.

Legislation, which is due to be introduced before the end of 2023, comes because 1.4 million people signed a petition to “End the Cage Age”, a European Citizens Initiative.

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