Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Agriculture, Food & Beverage / Planetary health

Biodiversity and healthy food policies to help build resilience to future epidemics

By Andrew Sansom 22 May 2020 0

The European Commission has adopted a new Biodiversity Strategy to bring nature back into people’s lives and a Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system – highlighting how the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how vulnerable human society is to increasing biodiversity loss and how crucial a well-functioning food system is for society.

In line with the European Green Deal, the two strategies propose EU actions to halt biodiversity loss in Europe and worldwide, and transform the food system through global standards for competitive sustainability, and heightened protection of human and planetary health.

The two strategies are described as mutually reinforcing, bringing together nature, farmers, business and consumers to work jointly towards a competitively sustainable future.

Forming a central element of the EU’s plan on how to recover from COVID-19, the new Biodiversity Strategy will be crucial in preventing and building resilience to future outbreaks, as well as providing immediate business and investment opportunities for restoring the EU’s economy. It also aims to make biodiversity considerations an integral part of the EU’s overall economic growth strategy.  -

The strategy proposes to, among other things, establish binding targets to restore damaged ecosystems and rivers; improve the health of EU protected habitats and species; bring back pollinators to agricultural land; reduce pollution; green our cities; enhance organic farming and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices; and improve the health of European forests. It also brings forward concrete steps to put Europe’s biodiversity on the path to recovery by 2030, including transforming at least 30 per cent of Europe’s lands and seas into effectively managed protected areas, and restoring at least 10 per cent of agricultural area under high-diversity landscape features.

Funding of €20 billion a year will support the biodiversity measures outlined in the strategy.

The Farm to Fork Strategy, meanwhile, aims to enable the transition to a sustainable EU food system that safeguards food security and ensures access to healthy diets sourced from a healthy planet. It seeks to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the EU food system and strengthen its resilience, protecting citizens’ health and ensuring the livelihoods of food suppliers. 

Targets include reducing the use and risk of pesticides by a half; decreasing the use of fertilisers by at least 20 per cent; cutting sales of antimicrobials used for farmed animals and aquaculture by a half; and ensuring 25 per cent of agricultural land is devoted to organic farming. It also proposes measures to ensure that the healthy option is the easiest choice for EU citizens, including improved labelling to better meet consumers’ information needs on healthy, sustainable foods.

European farmers, fishers and aquaculture producers will receive support from the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy through new streams of funding and eco-schemes to adopt sustainable practices. 

Recovery from COVID-19

As core parts of the European Green Deal, the two strategies are also expected to support economic recovery. In the context of the coronavirus, they aim to strengthen societies’ resilience to future pandemics and threats such as climate impacts, forest fires, food insecurity or disease outbreaks – including by supporting more sustainable practices for agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture and by addressing wildlife protection and illegal wildlife trade.

The strategies also have important international elements. The Biodiversity Strategy reaffirms the EU’s determination to lead by example in tackling the global biodiversity crisis. And the Farm to Fork Strategy aims to promote a global transition to sustainable food systems, in close co-operation with the EU’s international partners.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown how vulnerable we all are, and how important it is to restore the balance between human activity and nature,” said executive vice-president for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans. “Climate change and biodiversity loss are a clear and present danger to humanity. 

“At the heart of the Green Deal, the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies point to a new and better balance of nature, food systems and biodiversity; to protect our people’s health and wellbeing; and, at the same time, to increase the EU’s competitiveness and resilience. These strategies are a crucial part of the great transition we’re embarking upon.”

Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety, said: “The Farm to Fork Strategy will make a positive difference across the board in how we produce, buy and consume our food that will benefit the health of our citizens, societies and the environment. It offers the opportunity to reconcile our food systems with our planet’s health, to ensure food security and meet the aspirations of Europeans for healthy, equitable and eco-friendly food.”

Virginijus Sinkevičius, commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, commented: “Nature is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing: it filters our air and water, it regulates the climate, and it pollinates our crops. But we’re acting as if it didn’t matter, and losing it at an unprecedented rate. This new Biodiversity Strategy builds on what has worked in the past, and adds new tools that will set us on a path to true sustainability, with benefits for all.” 

Organisations involved