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Freshfel Europe has called on European authorities to build on the momentum of policy developments emerging from the Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy, and the EU Beating Cancer Plan to promote fresh fruit and vegetables as part of the solution to climatic and health challenges.

The aim is to shape an even stronger, more efficient, and better-funded policy to support European fresh fruit and vegetables to boost consumption over the minimum WHO threshold of 400 gr/capita/day, while also improving the competitiveness of EU fresh produce for exports to third-country markets.

Perfect time to stimulate consumption

Speaking at the two-day conference of the European Commission on the agri-food promotion policy review, Freshfel said that the momentum to significantly stimulate production, trade and consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables was stronger than ever.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led consumers to include more fresh produce in their diets to boost their health and immune system.

The United Nation’s celebration of 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables was seen as the perfect time for Freshfel Europe and the fruit and vegetables sector to speak up for the fresh produce sector and highlight the health and environmental benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The strong policy initiatives that started in 2018 through the Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle and signed by three European Commissioners further contribute to that momentum.

The declaration has now been converted into more concrete policy initiatives where fruit and vegetables are considered as part of the solution to current societal challenges, such as climate change and non-communicable diseases.

This is well reflected in the ambitions and strategy of the Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Beating Cancer Plan, the upcoming reform of the fruit and vegetable School Scheme, and, most importantly, the current discussion on the reform of the promotion policy with clear views of Freshfel Europe on the relevance of this policy for fresh produce.

“More than ever before there is a momentum to change things significantly,' said Freshfel Europe general delegate Philippe Binard. 'Fruit and vegetables are only granted 3 to 4 per cent of EU agricultural policy budget while contributing to 20 per cent of the European agricultural value.

'In comparison, the meat sector received up to 53 per cent of coupled agricultural support and milk and dairy 21 per cent,' he continued. 'It is time to spend agriculture budget more in line with societal expectations both from a health and environmental perspective.

“Fruit and vegetables are among the food baskets the products that best respond to these two ambitions,' Binard added. 'As the European Union is moving towards sustainable food production and consumption model, fruit and vegetables are an important component contributing to secure this ambition.”

Sector's sustainability efforts

For more than 20 years the sector has embarked in sustainable methods of production, using Integrated Production Method, precision farming and good agriculture practice, strict controls of plant protection usage, rigorous water management, minimising packaging and many other initiatives to cope with environmental, social and economic sustainability.

On the climate and environmental side, fruit and vegetable production is one of the the agriculture categories with the lowest CO2 emissions, it has a good record in regard to energy and water usage, protection of biodiversity and restrictive usage of plant protection products and fertilisers.

Meanwhile, the diversity of fruit and vegetables contributes to a healthy diet, it os full of fibres, vitamins, and nutrients which are important assets for an healthy lifestyle and prevention of many diseases based on a wealth of scientific studies.

Freshfel reminded that figures demonstrate fresh produce is primarily consumed locally and in season, with more than 60 per cent consumed in the European Member States where they were grown, while trade – both intra-EU and international – guarantees the full diversity of the assortment and year-round supply.

The efforts of growers to protect their crops and the good temperature control of the supply chain also contribute to minimising food waste.

More support required

The support for a strong promotion policy and the education of consumers towards more plant-based diets was echoed by Freshfel Europe representative Simona Rubbi during the two-day conference on the review of the promotion policy.

“It is important for fruit and vegetables to rely on a strong and well-funded promotion policy,' said Rubbi. 'Today, the fresh produce sector receives around €30m of financial support every year for the promotion of EU fresh produce on the domestic market as well as on third-country markets. Fifteen per cent of the EU promotion budget is therefore dedicated to fruit and vegetables.

“This is obviously insufficient if the ambitious objective of the EU is to radically change the diet and move towards a more sustainable and plant-based diet,' she noted. 'This move should also keep in mind the benefit of a balance and diverse diet including other agriculture product.

'Securing half of the plate with fruit and vegetables and move over the minimum of 400g per capita/day for all consumers is the objective. It will be a win-win solution, for the planet and for the health of its citizens alike and for the sector as this will imply to increase the fresh produce supply by close to 15m tonnes.”

Freshfel said it would continue to take the lead towards a more favourable policy-making for fresh produce.

'It is time to deliver and build on the current momentum by supporting the transition towards a sustainable system and shaping the new policies that best respond to the challenges of the sector,' the group said. 'Finding ways to best position fruit and vegetables at the centre of a healthy and sustainable diet should be the main priorities of public and private stakeholders.

'It should be based on the strong partnership within the supply chain from production, to trade and down to retail and other food services segments and guarantee by the excellence, the quality, the freshness, the convenience and the diversity of all fresh fruit and vegetables made available to consumers on the European markets.'