Attilio Caligiani is Partner at the Brussels office of Hague Corporate Affairs and Siska Pottie is the Founder and Secretary General of the European Alliance for Plant-Based Foods (EAPF). Together they wrote this blog about how the plant-based food sector can help Europe achieve a sustainable future.
More people are turning to plant-based foods – products made from vegetables, grains, pulses including soy, nuts, fungi, and algae – out of concern about climate change, biodiversity loss, human health, and animal welfare. As we are still in the early days of acceptance of plant-based foods, the industry surrounding it lacks a level playing field. Plant-based foods are poised to help the EU as a partner for a sustainable future, while also facing the challenge of achieving regulatory parity with meat and dairy and addressing a lack of funding to support efforts aimed at fostering their use. and addressing a lack of funding to support efforts aimed at fostering their use.
Agriculture makes a large contribution to the EU’s carbon footprint, with almost 70% of its greenhouse gas emissions coming from livestock farming. Plant-based foods represent a relevant opportunity for several EU initiatives focused on tackling these environmental challenges. These include the Farm to Fork Strategy, which provides the foundation of the new EU agri-food policy and aims to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable and resilient food systems, the European Green Deal, which aims to lead Europe towards a zero-carbon economy by 2050, and Horizon Europe, where research and innovation on plant-based alternatives to animal-based products should be a focus.
A growing market for plant based food
The plant-based sector is projected to become a €7.5 billion market in the EU by 2025. Its retail sales have grown by almost 10% year-on-year between 2010 and 2020. In addition to economic growth, the sector allows farmers to diversify agricultural crops, actively contributing to the EU’s better resilience to climate change, while opening new economic opportunities for many.
Strong leadership is needed from European institutions to create incentives for plant-based industry efficiency and job creation, a level playing field between plant and animal-based foods, accessibility to plant-based foods and education about their health and environmental benefits. Also, it will be crucial to ensure incentives that stimulate healthier and more sustainable consumption patterns while enabling fair market access for plant-based foods across Europe. This would include the removal of existing barriers such as higher tax rates, recognition of the environmental and health benefits of plant-based diets, and clarity when purchasing plant-based food products which allow consumers to compare the environmental impact of dairy and meat.
The European Alliance for Plant-based Foods (EAPF)
The European Alliance for Plant-based Foods (EAPF) led and coordinated the advocacy against AM171 in the CMO regulation and on 25 May, in the context of the trialogue negotiations between the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council, succeeded in its mission to get rid of this amendment imposing strict communication rules on plant-based dairy alternatives, making it impossible to inform consumers properly and to communicate on the nutritional and environmental benefits of plant-based foods compared to the dairy products. This first success on AM171 stimulates further work of EAPF on other regulations and policies that hinder the development of the sector, offering citizens more sustainable food choices and helping the EU to reach its climate ambitions.
For years, there has been a strong lobby advocating for the meat and dairy sector. Now, the plant-based food sector is working with one voice to help level the playing field. The European Alliance for Plant-based Foods was created only last year to join forces and create a “coalition of the willing” to drive and accelerate change towards more sustainable plant-based diets.
The plant-based sector therefore takes a collective, multi-stakeholder approach, which brings together a diverse constituency of consumers, food producers, startups, manufacturers, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), nutritionists, large and small companies, and the academic community. The Alliance seeks to help promote sustainable food systems through advocating in favor of policies at European and national level that support plant-based foods and recognize their essential role in the ongoing transition to a sustainable future.
By Attilio Caligiani and Siska Pottie