Empty supermarket shelves
Empty supermarket shelves ISTOCK

The talks between the EU and Israel were held online on 28-29 June 2022 as part of EU-funded workshop series supporting the ‘Farm to Fork’ (F2F) Strategy put in place by the EU in the context of the wider ‘Green Deal’. Both sides have expressed similar concerns regarding the environmental degradation caused by agriculture and farming as well issues of food security, healthy nutrition and food waste reduction, and agreed that holistic and long term actions must be put in place.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis and ongoing extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, have disrupted global food supply chains and communities around the world, causing a risk of food insecurity and food related health threats such as hunger or obesity. In addition, current food production, transport and processing methods are one of the largest contributors to global warming with 21-37% of GHG emissions attributed to food chains.

As part of its Green Deal, the EU has put in place the Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy to tackle sustainability and environmental issues across the entire food chain. As climate and food production transcend borders, the effort demands multi national cooperation. “COVID-19 highlighted the need to be more resilient and robust and have food systems that work in all circumstances and provide food for all citizens", Said Mrs. Sandra Gallina, Director General, DG Sante, European Commission. "The Farm to Fork Strategy involves producers, operators, consumers, everybody who is in the food chain, but to make this transition a success we need to go global". Mrs. Gallina addressed this issue during the first F2F EU-Israeli workshop held last week, in which some 80 policy makers, environment and agriculture experts, as well as other stakeholders, met to discuss strategies of coping with a looming food and climate crisis.

In her opening statement, Dr. Michal Levy, Chief Scientist and Senior Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, stated that "Israel's vision for its agricultural sector is to maximize production and contribute to rural and economic development while protecting land and water resources, reducing pollution and waste and contributing to biodiversity and landscape conservation. Israel's current policies aim to everyone in every place has sufficient access to high-quality, highly nutritional and affordable food to lead a healthy life".

But while Israel has been making strides in certain areas of sustainable food production such as water efficiency and other innovations such as development of lab grown proteins and other meat and dairy substitutes, it is still facing challenges like high costs of fruit and vegetables and high rates of food waste and food loss. The political instability in Israel, who just declared a fifth election in less then 4 years, raises concerns among officials about the ability to form long-term efforts needed to tackle climate change and food sustainability.

"It’s important to quantify the future damages from non-action as well as the benefits from action", said Dr. Yael Kachel, Head of Research, Economy and Strategy Division, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, MARD. “If governments are changing every other year, there’s a lot of focus on short-term politics and not enough time to think about long-term strategies and not enough time to implement them. I think if we can quantify it, it will help to communicate it to policymakers, and to mobilize budgets for acting on climate change”.

All participants of the joint workshop agreed that continuous cooperation between Israel and the EU is needed and beneficial. “Israel and the EU share the same concerns vis à vis the challenge we are all facing in how to reduce the negative externalities with the food system, like climate change, environmental degradation, loss of natural resources, but also unhealthy diets” said Mrs. Nathalie Chaze, Director Food Sustainability and International Relations, DG Sante, European Commission. "I think it’s very encouraging to see that both of us have adopted a holistic approach not just limited to production. We really believe this integrated approach is key to the challenge.”

Mr. Daniel Werner, Head of Foreign Relations and International Cooperation Department, Center for Foreign Trade and International Cooperation (CFTIC), MARD, concluded that: “In order to make food systems more sustainable, we need to explore more ways to cooperate not only between researchers, but also among other sectors such as farmers, the industry, the government, the NGOs, and the consumer as well.”