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Opening speech at the 2019 EU Agricultural Outlook Conference - Sustainability from farm to fork

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 11 december 2019.

Speech by Commissioner Kyriakides, responsible for Health and Food Safety at the 2019 EU Agricultural Outlook Conference - Sustainability from farm to fork, in Brussels

Ladies and gentlemen, Janusz,

It is a great pleasure to join you today as we open a new chapter for the European Commission and a new chapter for Europe and its citizens.

It feels like a long time since I spoke at my European Parliament hearing about my vision for our collective work on health and food safety. I am very happy that the real work has now finally begun.

It is time to put action to words and begin our journey towards a more sustainable Europe, a Europe that improves the health and well-being of our citizens. This is what our citizens expect from us - nothing less.

I am delighted that this year's Agricultural Outlook conference takes the proverbial “bull by the horns” and gets the discussions started.

***

Today's Europe is facing some uncomfortable truths. The population is growing, yet natural resources are shrinking and biodiversity is disappearing. Millions of citizens live in food poverty, yet we waste a fifth of the food we produce, and half the adult population is overweight.

We have committed to lead on the Sustainable Development Goals, but we cannot deliver without implementing major change. It is clear: a new, healthier, fairer and more sustainable approach to food systems is needed. Business as usual is no longer an option when it comes to food production.

This goes for producers as well as for consumers.

***

President von der Leyen has set an ambitious agenda for a stronger, greener, and more democratic Europe.

It is a great honour to be part of her team - but also a great responsibility. A critical part of our success depends on delivering the new European Green Deal - in which farming and food systems have a major part to play.

The Green Deal will be presented tomorrow as both a response and a vision for greater sustainability. It is inspired by European citizens who repeatedly call for concrete action to protect our environment and tackle climate change.

It seeks to address the challenges of sustainability in a universal way - recognising the essential links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet. It sets ambitious targets for climate neutrality, carbon emissions and zero pollution - alongside plans to support innovation and research, job creation, social inclusion and equality.

In short, it will bring people and policies together, to build synergies and partnerships for a stronger, healthier, and more united Europe.

I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to bring this ambitious plan to life - and with you, Europe's valued agriculture community.

***

One of the key building blocks of the Green Deal is the new "Farm to Fork" strategy.

I am delighted this falls under my portfolio, but I am under no illusion - it will be a major task. European farming is famous for being safe, nutritious and of high quality.

It should now also become the global standard for sustainability. The Farm to Fork Strategy that I will present will contribute to Europe's climate change agenda, protect the environment and preserve biodiversity.

It will ensure farmers position in the value chain. It will also encourage sustainable food consumption and promote affordable and healthy food for all. We will rely on your input to get the balance right, and Member States' support to deliver it.

***

I've already been asked many times what form the strategy will take. This, in part, will depend on the discussions we have in the coming weeks and months.

On timing, the Commission aims to get the strategy in place by next spring, in 2020.

On the scope, we are clear it needs to address each and every step of the food chain, from production and processing, through to marketing, consumption and international trade. We need to change the way we produce and consume, without compromising on the safety, quality and affordability of food.

I want to make sure that this strategy accounts for the needs and concerns of all the different actors involved, in particular the farmers and those working in the farm and food sectors.

Our Farm to Fork Strategy will be supporting our farmers. It will preserve their vital work and continue ensuring their livelihoods, including through research and innovation. Sustainability cannot be achieved without our food producers coming fully on board..

***

It is important to remember we're not starting from scratch in this endeavour. The concept of working to improve every step of the food chain - from producers to consumers - is not new in Europe.

Indeed, it lies at the heart of a very large body of European initiatives -- designed specifically, and developed over many years, to protect:

  • the safety and integrity of the food chain,
  • the quality of our food,
  • the health of our citizens,
  • plant health, and
  • the health and welfare of our animals.

Citizens in the EU today enjoy a high level of food safety standards and our food safety system is recognised as an example of best practice.

I will continue to promote these standards globally and ensure they are properly implemented and enforced at home.

***

The new strategy will complement these rules, and integrate them into a broader, more coherent framework for sustainability.

Specific areas I have committed in particular to take action on are pesticides, fertilisers and the use of antibiotics.

They are excellent examples of the importance of a "Health in all Policies" approach -- and the need to collaborate, and build accountability across sectors to support effective change.

Pesticides are a major concern for our citizens and I firmly believe that we can reduce their use and their risks in the EU. Dependency on pesticides is not sustainable. It is harmful for our planet and our citizens. Our farmers should be able to choose the least dangerous option for human health and the environment.

Through the zero-pollution strategy in the European Green Deal, we will strive to reduce Europe's dependency on pesticides and protect citizens from exposure.

I want us to agree ambitious targets on pesticides and fertilisers to substantially reduce the risks associated with them. And in parallel, we need to stimulate the development and use of alternative plant protection products.

On antibiotics, I want to reduce the number of antimicrobials used in farm animals, to ensure they remain effective in both humans and animals in the years to come.

Technology, innovation and research into new farming methods and techniques will be crucial for our work to approach food production more sustainably.

The Common Agricultural Policy will be an important tool to help us achieve these targets, and I will work closely with Member States to match our ambition in their national strategic plans.

Alongside this, we will consider targets for food waste, to tie in with work on the circular economy. We will also work with Member States on a food fraud strategy, to protect citizens and strengthen the Single Market and on measures to improve animal welfare.

This will be combined with the promotion of healthy choices and healthy living, such as for example through clearer food labelling. By the end of this Commission's mandate, I want the sustainable choice to be the easy and the obvious choice.

What is healthy for our planet is also healthy for our citizens. The work I will do in other areas to bring about positive health outcomes for our citizens will also rely on the progress we make under the Farm to Fork strategy.

This is particularly true for an issue that is very close to my heart and to my mandate as Commissioner for Health and Food Safety - our work on cancer and the Europe Beats Cancer Plan that I will present. A healthy diet is a key component for a healthy society and the Beating Cancer Plan will also rely on the progress we make in the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy.

***

A final point I want to come back to is the concept of "Health in all Policies".

As a clinical psychologist, I was trained to treat the patient as a whole, not their individual symptoms. I firmly believe the same approach applies to effective policy making.

We can no longer talk about public health, food safety, animal health and plant health as isolated, stand-alone subjects. It is essential we treat them as part of the same unit.

They all impact on our quality of life; they all impact on social cohesion, competitiveness, economic growth and long-term sustainability.

We are one health.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Protecting our food systems is one of our generation's defining tasks. We are at a critical moment in history and it's time to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

As the Ancient Greek statesman, Pericles, said "what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others." The new farm to fork strategy is an opportunity to invoke change and leave a sustainable legacy for future generations.

I want us all to come on board in this endeavour.

Our citizens expect us to lead and deliver this transformation. When doing so, we will ensure that it is a just transition for all - we will leave no one behind. Our job in the next five years is to make sure this happens - to make sure we put Europe on the right track for a long and healthy future.

I look forward to working with you to achieve this ambitious plan.

Thank you.


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