European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Round Table

Posted by Josette Dunn on 3rd March 2010

As chairman of the CIAA’s Environment Committee, Pascal Gréverath is at the centre of the European food industry’s sustainability effort. He spoke with Ben Cooper of just-food about the newly-created European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production Round Table and what he sees as the main priorities for the CIAA’s sustainability brief.For first-hand testimony of the priority food companies are giving to sustainability issues, Pascal Gréverath, the man charged with leading the environmental efforts of the European food industry body, the CIAA, is a man with his finger on the pulse.

Gréverath says the environmental brief at CIAA has expanded considerably in recent years and expects that expansion to continue. “It’s increasingly busy,” Gréverath tells just-food, with the growing importance of this area reflected in “an increasing commitment of the CIAA membership”.

He notes growing participation in the CIAA’s environmental working groups, which deal with specific areas such as sustainable consumption, climate change, packaging and IPCC, or Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control.

“There is an increasing participation of the CIAA membership in the working groups which reflects clearly growing…,” he pauses, “not concern – I don’t want to be negative…the growing level of priority of these topics for food companies.”

The last six months have been particularly frenetic, with the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, for which CIAA prepared a detailed position paper, and the formation by CIAA of the European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Round Table.

In common with many other organisations, CIAA saw Copenhagen fall well short of what it was hoping for. However, Gréverath says there is some cause for “regret”, he takes a more sanguine view than many. “I think Copenhagen is maybe not so negative as it is sometimes presented,” he says. “At least it was the first time that we had countries on board which so far were not involved, like the US and China. Of course we could have expected a stronger commitment from those countries but at least it’s a first step.”

CIAA continues to call for clearer, long-term and legally binding commitments from governments “because we need long-term visibility for our investment”, and an accord that is as “international and harmonised as possible”, Gréverath says. “So far it’s not the case but there will be other meetings, so hopefully the process will continue and will finally result in a level playing-field.”

Amid the despondency over Copenhagen, Gréverath’s optimism is refreshing, and he exhibits the same positive outlook when discussing the SCP Round Table, which CIAA formed last year to bring stakeholders in the European food supply chain together to address environmental issues collectively.

For Gréverath, who is environmental sustainability director at Nestlé, the two critical facets of the Round Table are that it has been formed with specific and focused objectives “to deliver concrete results”, not as a forum “where everything will be discussed and nothing really happens”, and that it involves stakeholders beyond the CIAA membership.

“We thought it essential to involve all the whole food chain,” he says. “We want to have the different stakeholders on board, from farmers, to retailers and consumers. Also we have invited the European Commission to join, and we are more than happy that they agreed to co-chair it and also to be involved in its work.” There are now four different DGs participating.

The Round Table has three clear objectives, Gréverath continues. The first is to identify and establish harmonised methodologies for the environmental assessment of food products across different countries. Secondly, it aims “to identify the appropriate communication tools”. Gréverath says: “There are different ways of communicating with consumers, new technologies which are worth investigating to see what are the most efficient and practical and so on.”

The third objective is to “ensure continuous improvement of practices within the food [supply] chain related to the environment and sustainability”.

Gréverath is buoyed by the various initiatives in eco-labelling and environmental legislation in different EU states, notably France, Germany and the UK, but says the European food industry needs “common rules” and believes the Round Table can help in achieving this.

“What we need, and this is an objective which is fully shared by the European Commission and member states who are also participating in our Round Table, is a harmonised approach throughout the EU and ideally of course beyond the EU. But let’s say if we can achieve something within the EU it’s already an important first step.”

He adds that CIAA has been pleased to welcome experts from governments including France, the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands, and will “welcome other member states also if they are interested”. Gréverath, who co-chairs the Round Table’s steering committee, has also been pleased with the engagement from organisations representing various elements in the supply chain, such as agriculture, the packaging industry and retail.

However, there has so far been no formal participation from NGOs, something which Gréverath would like to change. He believes dialogue with NGOs is “essential” and points out that he has “regular meetings” with NGOs, and is constantly striving to open and maintain channels of communication.

“We have invited them [to participate] and we are continuously inviting them. Some of them are observers but they don’t want to be named. And others say they do not have the resources. But we are insisting together with the new Commission to have more NGOs involved and we definitely hope that finally they will agree to participate formally in the work.”

Looking ahead to the coming year, the “major event” will be the first plenary of the Round Table in the summer, where the principles for environmental assessment and voluntary communication to consumers and other stakeholders will be officially published.

In addition to consumer communication, Gréverath expects the other prime area of focus over the coming year or so will be waste. Research conducted in the UK, Austria and the Netherlands suggests around 30% of food that is produced is wasted, while research in the US suggests this could be as high as 40%.

From a sustainability standpoint, this issue is central, Gréverath says, not least because wasted food represents waste of all the natural resources that have gone into its production. Furthermore, he adds, any environmental impacts, carbon emissions and the like, resulting from food that is ultimately wasted “have been for nothing”.

“This is not acceptable,” Gréverath says. “There is an increasing concern about this issue which we as an industry fully share.”

A further study being conducted by the EU will be published this year and will provide “a good picture of the situation”. Once again, he maintains that including the entire supply chain in the search for solutions is critical.

For Gréverath, the environmental debate has to begin with the waste issue. “Before telling people don’t eat this, don’t eat that, don’t do this, don’t do that, the first thing is to remove what is wasted, because it would really be a nonsense to tell people don’t eat this, don’t eat that and at the same time we continue to throw away 30% or maybe 40% of what is produced.”

The question of waste is also, Gréverath believes, the archetypal sustainability issue. The “elimination” of food waste, and he chooses this word deliberately instead of reduction or minimisation, makes environmental and economic sense, he says, but with so much hunger and starvation in the world caused by poor access to food, there is clearly a social and ethical imperative too.

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