EU Commission should have a balanced approach to sustainable food based on facts and science

Following the recent publication of the scoping paper “Towards sustainable food consumption”, we sent a letter to the European Commission on behalf of several European associations along the livestock value chain about some concerns related to wording in the mandate for a scientific opinion from the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. The EU Commission’s advisory group was asked to develop a scientific opinion on sustainability in the food environment and guidelines to overcome the obstacles preventing consumers from adopting healthy and sustainable diets. But reading the scoping paper, it seems that the Commission has assumed a more ideological view on meat production and consumption.

In our letter, we reiterate our strong support for an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food system. The document reports without scientific reference or context that “the increased global demand for fish, meat and other livestock products” is “contributing to overconsumption, obesity and other health determinants closely related to an increased risk of noncommunicable diseases” and thatlivestock production is associated with greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare issues, impact on land use, air and water pollution, as well as development and spread of zoonoses and multi-resistant bacteria”.

In the letter to the Commission, we express our disappointment in reading such a narrative. Rather than scientifically presented, it reads more like a list of generic and somewhat unfair generalized accusations against the whole sector. Many actors in the livestock value chain are making huge efforts to improve their practices, even before the Farm to Fork strategy was presented, and have implemented the best available techniques to decrease the carbon footprint, improve animal health and welfare, deliver healthier products and meet societal challenges.

The Commission should address the question of food sustainability from a factual and scientific basis, not on a preconceived notion depicting a black-and-white view of the situation. When we talk about sustainable food, we need to talk about sustainable food systems, the objective of the Farm to Fork strategy. Every element, including animal products, plays a role in such a system. We cannot take out an element, as the system as a whole cannot work without it. For instance, organic plant production would be impossible without livestock manure. Livestock farming is also a great way to support a circular economy, as it enables the use of by-products that would otherwise be lost.

Moreover, the EU animal farming model, based on diversified, local and family farm structures, is a key component of European rural and coastal areas. It supports life in rural areas by providing employment. It contributes to a circular bio-economy, biodiversity, and landscape conservation while ensuring a steady and affordable supply of nutritious foods needed for a balanced diet. Whilst excess consumption of meat, fish, dairy or many foods can generate food disorders, health dysfunctions and diseases, animal-source foods consumed in proportionate amounts are an important part of a balanced diet.

For this reason, it is extremely unfair to depict the sector as de facto unsustainable and to generically associate the EU livestock chain with “greenhouse gas emissions, animal welfare issues, impact on land use, air and water pollution, as well as development and spread of zoonoses and multi-resistant bacteriawithout any scientific support or context. In our letter, we hope that the negative messages against our sector contained in the scoping paper will not lead to the development of tools which will lead to the sidelining of products coming from the livestock value chain rather than stimulating the sustainable production and marketing of animal-based products.

It is important to ensure a balanced and science-based narrative that may denote differences between the more and less sustainable business practices but avoids divisive and simplistic messages against specific sectors and considers that it is a whole system where every element has a role to play to make it sustainable.