• Materials, Waste, Regulatory environment

With the help of packaging, the EU can make the food system safer and greener – at home and abroad

Crisis resilience must be at the heart of EU food policy, argues Elsi Katainen MEP. The parliamentarian of the liberal Renew Europe group is of the firm opinion that food packaging is an important asset in this mission.

EU food policy: challenges and priorities

In her capacity as Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development select committee, Elsi Katainen MEP has closely scrutinised the food legislation proposals put forward by the European Commission and developed ideas on how to move EU policy in this field forward. Reflecting on the responsibilities in her current office, she stresses the holistic nature of food policy: “Legislation creates the whole framework in which the food system operates.” Consequently, politicians needed to have access to information from across the entirety of the value chain to make the right decisions: “I see the importance to collect and enhance the views from the field to the legislation.”

Looking more concretely at the priorities of EU food policy, Katainen emphasises that it was of crucial strategic importance for the bloc to maintain food self-sufficiency: “We need food, which is produced in Europe, with our strict rules.” In her view, this would not only benefit Europeans, but the world as a whole: contrary to beliefs that it was synonymous with pulling up the proverbial drawbridge on the EU’s food markets, she argues that food autarky is complementary to a prosperous trade in foodstuff. Most significantly, however, Katainen highlights that strengthening domestic food production would reinforce the bloc’s ability to respond to humanitarian emergencies in other parts of the world: “We need to be prepared to feed not only our current citizens, but to mitigate different types of global food crises.” Katainen considers this point especially crucial in light of the major systemic challenges facing the planet’s food system such as a steadily rising world population and the climate crisis.

Food packaging is key to EU food policy

According to Katainen, packaging is a significant building block in this strategy:

“Food packaging has an important role to make our society more sustainable and reducing food waste.”

Within the EU, she says, it was sustaining self-sufficiency by enabling citizens to enjoy affordable, abundant, and safe food – while also giving them the opportunity to learn more about what they are eating and aid them in making healthy choices. She believes that these benefits could be extended to developing countries struggling with food security and safety. Indeed, Katainen argues that packaging may enhance the overall food value chain in these state by enabling “the local food industry to make more processed and valuable exports”.

Reaping the benefits of sustainable packaging in the EU

When it comes to the efforts to decarbonise the food value chain, however, Katainen is concerned that the EU has not made the most of the opportunities offered by packaging in the past: “We have a lot of unused potential in recyclable and wood-based packaging.” She is not certain that this is going to improve going forward: pointing to the upcoming reform of the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) in this context, she expresses concerns that there may be “some potential issues with disregarding innovative use of bio-based materials” as part of this initiative. Katainen believes that it is crucial for the EU to ensure that sustainability is achieved through new ideas: “We need to enhance research and innovation on our shift towards fossil free economy.” In her view, politicians in Europe can pave the way for scientists and industries by facilitating access to finance and correcting regulatory flaws. Crucially, as with all food policy issues, she underlines again that the EU must not lose sight of the overall picture in handling this question: “We need to look closely on the whole life cycle and production line and not only the effectiveness of product.”

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss the role packaging has in enabling accessible, affordable and safe food in an uncertain world. The articles are published ahead of our virtual roundtable.

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