European Dairy Association: Policy Conference 2023

An image showing dairy cows in a field.

Food labelling and business resilience were top of the agenda at the 2023 European Dairy Policy Conference. Aptly titled ‘Farm to Fork Strategy – 2023, the year of delivery?’, the conference brought together policy experts, trade associations, farmers and politicians to hear the state of play on the topics. Here, Senior European Policy Advisor, Kate Adams, reports from Brussels.

Animal welfare, carbon farming, food waste and labelling. These are just a handful of key topics outlined in the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy – the strategy that aims to make food systems fairer, heathier and more environmentally friendly. Three years on from its publication in 2020, the EDA conference took stock of some of the key initiatives in the strategy.

Food labelling

The Commission will propose an EU labelling scheme which will include Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling (FOPNL), date marking, origin labelling, eco-labelling and sustainability labelling. The scheme will be proposed under the eagerly anticipated Food Information to Consumers Regulation. A complex and often hotly debated subject, the conference put a spotlight on the current state of play.

Chairing the first session on labelling was Dr Judith Bryans of DairyUK, who introduced an eclectic panel with a diversity of views. Following a keynote speech from MEP Paolo de Castro – who highlighted the need for consumers to make informed choices and spoke out against the controversial FOPNL method Nutri-Score – delegates heard from Sabine Pelsser, Head of Unit in DG SANTE. Providing an overview of the Commission’s plans to revise food labelling so that consumers can better understand what is in their food, Sabine informed delegates that the Commission impact assessment is still in progress and provided no concrete timescales for publication of the Regulation.

Next to contribute to the debate was Tomáš Slunecko – Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the EU – and Emma Calvert – BEUC (European Consumer Organisation), who brought contrasting views to the audience. Whilst Mr Slunecko outlined the Czech Government's view that current EU labelling is sufficient and that focus should shift to education, Ms Calvert voiced support for Nutri-Score, outlining that it ‘ticks all of the boxes’. Finally, we heard from Dr Stephan Peters from the Dutch Dairy Association, who outlined there is a difference between consumer intentions and behaviour, and that there is a lack of a proven, positive effect of nutrition labelling such as Nutri-Score in supermarkets.

Living the Farm to Fork Strategy

The second session, chaired by EDA Senior Policy Officer Alberto Babolin, had the theme of ‘Living the Farm to Fork Strategy’ with a focus on net zero and resilience.

Delegates first heard from Professor John Gilliland of Queen’s University Belfast, who presented a clear plan on how livestock farms can achieve net zero ambitions by utilising a science-based approach. Professor Gilliland shared his experiences from managing the world’s first carbon neutral suckler beef farm in Dowth, Ireland and stressed the importance of establishing baselines for individual farm businesses. 

Following this, delegates heard from Marlin Dammann from Germany’s largest dairy cooperative, DMK, who outlined how farms in Germany are paving the way for the sector by taking ambitious action to achieve carbon neutrality. This is being done through their Net Zero project. And last, but by certainly no means least, Sven Kück, a young dairy farmer from Northern Germany brought the session to life. He shared his story of his family run business on how he is increasing business resilience whilst reducing the farm’s environmental footprint, emphasizing that there is no single solution for the sector.

Looking forward

It was a pleasure to meet colleagues from across the sector to celebrate the European dairy industry. Whilst the Commission is busy preparing proposals on food labelling and the plethora of other aspects that fall under the Farm to Fork Strategy, farmers across the continent will continue to produce nutritious, sustainable and high quality food. 


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