Food and drink sector can help EU become benchmark for biodiversity, says industry chief

New FoodDrinkEurope president Marco Settembri says he wants Europe’s food sector to be a “gold standard of biodiversity”.

new president of FoodDrinkEurope | Photo credit: FoodDrinkEurope

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Jun 2020


Speaking on Wednesday Settembri, said, “If Europe wants to be the first climate neutral continent and to have a sustainable food system, then the food and drink industry can be central to achieving this… The sector can help Europe become the benchmark for biodiversity.” His comments come on the day he was approved as the new president of FoodDrinkEurope, the Brussels-based body that represents the sector at EU level.

He welcomed the European Commission’s recently announced strategies on farm to fork, biodiversity and the circular economy, saying, “We endorse these strategies, and also the European Green Deal, which are ambitious and go in the right direction... We need a holistic approach to food policy and the farm to fork value chain. The strategies are a positive step forward.”


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Settembri, who is Nestlé’s CEO for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, said he was “proud” to take over the presidency of FoodDrinkEurope at “a particularly challenging time.” He said, “It is not business as usual but, during the health crisis, I believe we have seen the true value of the food and drink industry and what it can bring to society.” Food supply chains had been maintained “in an amazing way” and “initial panic” about food supplies had been “calmed.”

However, the food and drink service, hotel and hospitality sector had “suffered more than most” from the crisis, he said adding, “It continues to be impacted now even though we are now seeing some reopening of businesses”. He said that with the summer season approaching, the impact on restaurants, bars and cafes will be felt the most in Southern European countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece. “It will be very difficult in these countries which rely in particular on hotel and hospitality trade. The summer is critical for them and they could be seriously affected.”

"During the health crisis, I believe we have seen the true value of the food and drink industry and what it can bring to society"

He added, “There has been some reopening of restaurants, but many are still very cautious about doing so. Some have been so deeply affected that, with social distancing demands, they say they will not reopen yet and maybe not until 2021... The situation could change month by month but, as an industry, we are taking plenty of measures to try and help the sector.”

The Coronavirus pandemic, generally, had “shown the resilience of the food and drink sector", adding that “The crisis has put food and drink centre stage, but we must not forget that there are things to be learned from all this.”

He continued, “If we want a green, inclusive recovery we must go beyond good intentions... The Commission strategies have only just been announced and we have plenty of time to put them in place but if we want to reach carbon neutrality, we need to start taking action... While I have no particular reservations about the Commission’s various strategies, I would like to see more harmonisation between the different policies so that there is no risk of one contradicting the other... I support the packages, but it is not just about setting easy targets, it’s also about making the necessary investment.”

He said the industry had “worked extremely well” with the Commission “to eliminate friction” at Europe’s internal and external borders at the outset of the pandemic in mid-March.

"The Commission strategies have only just been announced and we have plenty of time to put them in place but if we want to reach carbon neutrality, we need to start taking action"

“There were some issues at the start about cross border travel and the supply of products. But we were successful in eliminating these issues and we now need to continue to eliminate any existing friction between different countries in the event of a second wave of the pandemic… We must be prepared... The message is that the food and drink industry must continue to be considered essential and not become a second, third or even fourth priority.”

Asked by this website about what a no deal Brexit might mean for the sector, he said, “I want to see smooth trading relations between the EU and UK because this would be mutually beneficial for both sides.” He said that failure to maintain such smooth relations risks creating “very dangerous friction.. That is why continuing free trade between the two sides is essential and why we are pushing for, and encouraging, dialogue.”

The sector employs about five million people across Europe and Settembri said he sees his new role as being a “contact point” with the EU, ensuring the sector has “continuous contact” with the Commission. In his closing remarks, he said, “Food and drink is a complex sector and my job is to let the Commission know what we think they need to do... I have two roles but, as president of FoodDrinkEurope, I am not acting in the interests of my company but, rather, in the interests of the whole.”

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