Conference "Sourcing while respecting biodiversity: the case of food"

European Business & Biodiversity Campaign - News

Conference "Sourcing while respecting biodiversity: the case of food"

While climate impacts and concerns over ethical sourcing are gaining visibility within the food sector, the impacts of the loss of (agro)biodiversity remain under-addressed. As pressure on global resources escalate, the need to source food and agricultural products while maintaining and enhancing (agro)biodiversity becomes a crucial component of sustainable sourcing.

As a first answer, conclusions and recommendations have been drawn by scientists, industry leaders and policy makers at the Conference "Sourcing while respecting biodiversity: the case of food" held Thursday 1st March 2018 in Brussels. It was first concluded that a basic set of biodiversity criteria should be implemented by the whole food sector and regularly further developed. This new approach is being built in the frame of the EU LIFE Food & Biodiversity project with involved stakeholders. It has been also agreed that the "Decision tree" approach explained by the Belgian Federal Public Service could provide guidance for strategic questions of food companies such as risks management and responsible strategic decisions on sourcing regions, sites expansion and practices. Collaboration will be sought between those both new approaches. In order to obtain full results from them, conditions of governance have been defined at different level. Public authorities are seen key to the success and conditions notably in agricultural policy, trade conditionality and public procurement should be put in place to develop a level playing field and avoid an unfair competition. The need to align economic incentive as regulatory/ethical sourcing agreement was also highlighted. Finally a call has been done to guide a transition towards sustainable food and agricultural systems.
A decision tree model to help companies
The Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food chain safety and Environment proposed a decision tree model to help companies make strategic decisions when considering new cultivations, new sourcing regions or new sites. As they continue to improve the sustainability of their practices, companies are encouraged to use this tool to assess the state of biodiversity in a given sourcing region, the agricultural practices in use at the landscape level, and the policies and governance mechanisms in place in the sourcing country. "The results of today's discussion will help to further develop this decision tree model for potential application and testing for a pilot phase" says Tom Auwers, chairman of Belgium’s Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety, Security and Environment.
Recommendations to the food sector addressing the decline of biodiversity
Through a newly published set of recommendations, the partner organizations of the EU LIFE Food & Biodiversity project provide practical guidance on how to effectively integrate biodiversity protection into the schemes of food standards and the sourcing requirements of food companies and retailers. The recommendations show the full range of measures which should be realized to address the decline of biodiversity in an integrated and effective manner: Practices of biodiversity management such as the establishment of ecological structures and biotope corridors in combination with robust agricultural practices (e.g. reducing agro-chemicals, extending crop rotation). "By implementing these recommendations, the food sector with agriculture as the main supplier, would make a very relevant contribution towards the protection of biodiversity as an essential component of sustainable food systems in Europe and worldwide", says Marion Hammerl, president of the Global Nature Fund.

A need for governance

The two approaches discussed at the event could serve as part of a more holistic strategy to refocus food system priorities around a new set of principles. IPES-Food suggests that the criteria used could be further integrated into a set of globally applicable but locally adapted indicators to assess transitions to more sustainable food and agricultural practices. This broader set of indicators would not only consider impacts on biodiversity, but also assess nutritional quality, resource efficiency, or the impacts on livelihoods and equity of our food. "Tweaking industry practices may improve particular outcomes of our current food systems," notes Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of IPES-Food, "addressing biodiversity and ecosystem services is actually a missing important piece of the puzzle. Only a fundamental rethinking of our food and agricultural models will ensure long-term sustainability. What is needed is to encourage biodiverse farms, relying on agro-ecological principles, in order to support soil health - allowing them to become the carbon sinks they have been in the past - and better nutrition - as richer soils allows production of foods with a richer nutrient content."

A shift in political incentives

As shown by a survey of Belgian food companies conducted by the Université Catholique de Louvain, a shift in political incentives, policies and programs at all levels is needed in order for a transition to sustainable food systems to emerge. In many cases, source countries still have a poor governance framework as relating to the establishment of protected areas, proper land allocation for local food security of the rural poor or deforestation. In such situations, voluntary measures by companies for strengthening the governance framework have shown to be a key component for successful sustainable sourcing of organic material in a way that supports biodiversity. In particular, cooperation of all the actors is required to solve the big challenges within joint activities, improve the quality of information and reporting, as well as monitoring of land use practices. 
The Conference provided a strong opportunity to create synergies between food sector actors, while playing a positive role in shaping the development of innovative projects at the Belgian and EU levels within the framework of the EU LIFE Food & Biodiversity project. The event further served to stress the need to integrate requirements for biodiversity protection at international level.

The conference has been organized by the Belgian Federal Public Service in the framework of the #BeBiodiversity campaign (, the Global Nature Fund, IPES-FOOD (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems) and the Université Catholique de Louvain. This event was supported by the European Commission (DG Environment - LIFE Unit).

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