Organisation joins representatives of European Parliament and  European Commission to discuss current landscape and trends in fresh produce

Climate change, the threat on the Single Market, the role of fresh produce in sustainable systems and how to communicate this through aligned accountability and reporting standards were just a few of the topics discussed this week by Freshfel Europe during a two-day gathering in Brussels with policy makers and other stakeholders.

Freshfel Europe's secretary general Philippe Binard

Freshfel Europe’s secretary general Philippe Binard

On 18 and 19 September Freshfel board members met in Brussels to discuss the current landscape and trends in the fresh produce sector.

In his welcome speech at a dinner in the European Parliament, Freshfel Europe’s president Salvo Laudani said: “We should already look ahead and start shaping the upcoming priorities for the European Commission and the European Parliament for 2024 European election. To fulfil the strategies of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork, fruits and vegetables must be granted a status as essential goods, recognising the nutritional, environmental and economic assets of fresh produce”.

The next day, at Freshfel’s bi-annual board meeting, attendees heard how the sector is well prepared and well positioned for the road towards sustainable food systems thanks to the low environmental impact and high nutritional content of fresh produce. The sector could even serve as an enabler in issues such as biodiversity, soil health, water and carbon management and renewable energy.

The fresh produce industry also contributes to social and economic sustainability through its contribution to public health and by creating job opportunities in particular in rural areas.

But suitable policy tools for the sector must be provided to make the most of these opportunities.

“Good ideas lose their value when implemented incoherently,” Laudani said, citing examples such as reducing plant protection products without having available alternatives to address diseases on the fields or effect of climate change. “Without policy coherence the EU will never be able to achieve its goals,” he continued.

The increasingly serious impacts of climate change and extreme weather events such as the drought in Spain and floods in Emilia Romagna were also discussed. Freshfel Europe’s general delegate Philippe Binard said: “Climate change is bringing an increasing number of extreme weather as well as increasing number of known and unknown pests and diseases.

“Not only is this having a severe impact on harvests, through flooded fields, cracking fruits or dried up soils, but it is also impacting and creating uncertainties of investments for the sector. Long term strategies must be combined with short-term solutions to support growers in becoming more resilient to extreme climate events, and to be able to mitigate the impacts, for instance through supporting investments in specialized equipment, early warning systems and innovation”.

The board meeting was concluded with a lunch with officials from the European Commissions where views on a number of current topics relating to fruits and vegetables were exchanged, among them trade policy, marketing standards and promotion.

“The ambitions of the sector and of the European institutions must be upheld, while securing competitiveness of operations in times of climate change, economic hardships and swiftly changing geopolitical environments,” Binard said.

He urged decision makers to ensure the good functioning of the Single Market, noting that a failure to do so would leave the door open to national rules that will restrict free movement of goods in the EU and have huge costs for the sector.