As the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) continues in Glasgow, Freshfel Europe has urged EU and global decision-makers not to underestimate the role fruit and vegetables can play in achieving a healthy planet and people.
COP26 discussions on climate issues to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change should not ignore that fruit and vegetables have one of the lowest environmental impact production out of any food group, Freshfel noted.
At the same time fruit and vegetables are part of consumption recommendations for a healthy diet with a recommended minimum of 400g per day by WHO.
The association said that, with the health of the planet and of the global population at the forefront of global leaders’ minds during the COP26 negotiations, sustainable diets with fruit and vegetables as a priority should be capitalised upon to help reach the world’s climate goals.
COP26 negotiations taking place until the 12 November 2021 were described as a "unique opportunity" for European and global leaders to pave the way for a more sustainable and circular food system.
“Fruit and vegetables have one of the lowest environmental impact production among the food groups," said Freshfel Europe general delegate Philippe Binard. "Simultaneously, fresh produce also has one of the highest consumption recommendations by the WHO of at least 400g per day per capita.
"Stimulating consumption and raising awareness of the sector’s environmental and climate benefits has a substantial transformative power in the move towards healthy and sustainable diets for a more sustainable food system," he continued.
“2021 was the International Year of Fruit and Vegetables under the lead of the United Nations and FAO," Binard highlighted. "Under this background, the important role of fruits and vegetables as part of the solution for a healthy planet and people must not be underestimated in political discussions to reach climate goals such as COP26.”
Freshfel pointed out that the fruit and vegetable sector positively contributed towards the world’s sustainability ambitions to help achieve climate goals.
In Europe, under the Green Deal initiative, the fruit and vegetable sector was described as a pioneer in developing new strategies to further boost the sustainability journey of the sector which started more than 20 years ago.
"The fruit and vegetable sector has for years implemented very strict good agricultural practices and used limited production inputs," Binard said. "The sector is committed to protecting natural resources, minimising water and energy usage, preventing greenhouse gas emissions, maximising carbon sequestration and enhancing biodiversity.
"Along the supply chain, food loss and waste prevention initiatives, among others, are widespread to ensure both food security and sector sustainability.”
Sector sustainability, including environmental, social and economic aspects of the fruit and vegetable supply chain, is at the top of Freshfel Europe’s agenda.
The association, comprising members from across the European supply chain from producers, traders, wholesalers, importers and exporters, to logistics and service providers to retailers, has been discussing a range of pertinent sustainability topics for the sector in the lead up to COP26.
“Freshfel Europe is looking at sustainability from all angles across the value chain, including specific areas such as sustainable production techniques and circular packaging solutions in addition to sector-wide responsibilities and initiatives, for example food security assurance and overall product environmental footprint," explained Freshfel Europe director for sustainability Nicola Pisano.
This collaborative work is being carried out with a view to enhancing the sector’s own sustainability efforts and ensuring current initiatives are included as part of Europe’s and the globe’s transition to a more sustainable and circular food system.
“More than ever before, it is particularly relevant for the fresh produce sector to be accountable of its environmental efforts," Pisano added. "The fruit and vegetables sector is taking all the necessary steps to demonstrate its positive record by developing clear and all-encompassing methodology for measurement of its environmental footprint and continue to improve it over time.”
Freshfel stated that it was working closely with the European Commission to achieve Europe’s sustainability ambitions as part of the European Green Deal and its strategies.
In particular, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU beating cancer plan were described as encouraging a move towards more plant-based diets to help limit the food sector’s impact on climate change.
"While operating in a global environment to secure a diversity of year-round supply for a health diet, the fruit and vegetables supply remains primarily a local and seasonal business at the core of the assortment offered to European consumers," Freshfel concluded. "Undoubtedly, stimulating fruit and vegetable production to sustain a long-term increase in fresh produce consumption levels in Europe is part of a much needed societal transformation that will have a positive contribution to the planet in addition to the health of people."