Sunday, August 7

Learn from the war in Ukraine to leave the animals alone

The war in Ukraine is showing many things. Many that are not the object of this space dedicated to the defense of the rights of all animals, but others that are. One of them is the need, urgent for a long time, and now even more so, to rethink what we use the finite natural resources that we can use to feed ourselves. The war in one of the world’s ‘barns’ has put the entire planet on alert and has forced us to ask ourselves again how to make efficient use of these resources.

Those of us who have spent years defending other animals, trying to live causing the least harm to others, have many reasons not to eat our fellow planet. And this war has added one more reason: the UN has already warned of what animal agriculture (agriculture dedicated to feeding animals for consumption) entailed in terms of resources, a waste of water and grain that was not affordable for the world, and that meant condemning more and more areas of the globe to hunger, apart from the pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases caused by livestock farming.

That waste of resources was not defensible before, and now it is much less so. That in the current situation most of the world’s crops are dedicated to feed for animals intended for consumption should shame us. The war in Ukraine must be the turning point from which we propose a paradigm shift in our food, just as it is being considered in other areas, such as energy.

In line with the situation generated by this war, the food awareness organization ProVeg International has conducted a survey of vegetable food companies in 14 European countries, including Spain. The results reveal the impact that the conflict is having on the sector and the need to take measures to successfully overcome these enormous challenges.

According to the organization, the biggest challenge for companies are the prices of raw materials, especially edible oils, and the availability and supply of oils. In particular, it has been highlighted that sunflower oil is becoming very scarce and alternatives must be sought quickly. Do not forget that Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil.

The poll has shown that during the conflict in Ukraine many plant-based companies have created greater collaboration with other brands to overcome the obstacles created by the war. It has also been seen that a stronger internal collaboration has been created between the finance, production and logistics departments.

“It is clear to everyone that the war is having a devastating effect on the lives of many people in Ukraine,” said Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr, International Head of Food Industry and Retail at ProVeg. “The war has also had a huge impact on the plant sector, which is facing challenges in terms of ingredient supply, although we know this will affect the food industry as a whole and not just those in the plant sector. Still, it’s good to see companies joining forces to overcome these challenges,” she said. “The results of the survey are extremely important as it helps us better inform policy makers so that the plant-based food industry receives the support it needs.”

A total of 31 European companies from 14 different countries responded to the survey between the 1st and 20th of last April. Some of the conclusions are: 61% believe that the crisis will accelerate the transition to green energy; The same percentage believes that the prices of raw materials are higher and warns of the scarcity of raw materials; 64% denounce the increase in energy and transport costs, the same percentage of companies that warn of the lack of availability of transport and truck drivers; 59% believe that the increase in the prices of ingredients and energy will cause an increase in the prices of products; 69% stated that it will continue to be difficult to recruit qualified workers for the sector; and 50% reported working more closely with other brands, clients and internal staff.

One of the questions in the survey was whether they believed that their companies would need help from the government of their country in the next 3-36 months to help them face the challenges created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 25% of companies said they would need government help, while 29% said they might.

In this scenario, ProVeg makes three recommendations to mitigate the effects of the war in Ukraine: that the European Union continue to promote the ‘Farm to Table’ Strategy to support sustainable production, put an end to the VAT inequality that disadvantages alternatives vegetables to dairy products, and increased government support for plant food companies.

On the first of the recommendations, the ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy, ProVeg considers that it constitutes the backbone of the European food system of the future, sustainable and that protects biodiversity, and therefore tries to ensure that the war does not lead to its dilution. In this sense, he denounces that the European Commission “has received pressure to postpone” its application, which he sees as a setback, since he considers that the war forces the transition to a more plant-based diet to be accelerated. “Promoting and supporting the plant sector is also the key to improving food security in the long term, since it means that the grain that is currently used for animal feed will be used directly for human consumption, thus being more efficient,” he argued. Jaczniakowska-McGirr.

Regarding plant-based alternatives to dairy products, ProVeg denounces that their consumption is hampered not only by the restrictive regulatory framework around labeling practices, but also by the national fiscal regulations of many Member States.

“Governments can decide the level of the standard VAT rate and apply up to two reduced VAT rates. Dairy products usually fall under the reduced VAT rate and therefore receive an indirect subsidy, which means that the tax authorities waive part of the taxes. In some EU countries, this results in a tax advantage for animal-based dairy products over their plant-based alternatives. The fair thing would be to put an end to VAT discrimination for plant products and this is confirmed by consumer surveys. In Spain, the 90.5% of people believes that it is not fair that the VAT of vegetable alternatives to dairy is higher than that of animal milk, ”says the organization.

With all this background data, 63 organizations led by the European Alliance for Plant-Based Foods (EAPF) and the global event organizer Bridge2Food have sent a letter to call on the European Union’s main funding program for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, with €95.5 billion, to open funding lines exclusively for plant-based foods to make them sustainable, healthy, tasty and affordable .

“We have seen that the demand for plant-based foods among European consumers is growing as their lifestyles become healthier and they have a greater awareness of respecting the environment,” says Siska Pottie, Secretary General of the EAPF. “But in order to supply the market for this growing demand, we need the EU to create more funding channels,” she adds.

Specifically, these organizations ask the European Commission to create, within the framework of the Horizon Europe 2023-2024 programme: funding to research on improving the taste and composition of plant-based products; funding for projects that reduce the costs of plant-based products so that they can compete with animal-based foods; funding for research on crops intended specifically for plant-based food and not for animal feed, as animal feed represents the majority use of crops today and this is creating a disruptive food system that directly impacts our ecosystem; and funding for plant-based processed foods, as well as whole foods, to support processes that enable a large-scale transition to more sustainable food systems. Consumer choices are driven by taste, price and convenience, so research is needed to make plant-based options as delicious and affordable as animal products, they argue.

ProVeg stresses that Horizon Europe is a “critical” mechanism for accelerating the shift to plant-based diets and meeting the ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy as well as the European Cancer Plan.

During the Horizon 2020 programme, some projects dedicated to plant-based proteins were financed, such as the project Smart Protein. This initiative, financed by the EU with 9 million euros, aims to develop alternative protein ingredients and products for humans that have a positive impact on the bioeconomy, the environment, biodiversity, nutrition, food safety and confidence and consumer acceptance. The results of this project and the speed of innovations show the need for further in-depth research on plant-based foods, including taste and nutritional properties, insists ProVeg.

The coalition states in its letter that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting supply chain insecurity has made the need for EU research funding to be tailored to the plant-based food sector even more pressing. By funding research and innovation of crops for use in plant-based foods, the EU will be helping to contribute to Europe’s long-term food security and strategic autonomy, the signatories insist.

“Much of the world’s grain is grown in Russia and Ukraine, but most of it goes to feed animals for meat production, rather than going directly to plates as plant-based food,” the spokesman said. “At a time when these resources are facing price and availability pressures, encouraging the transition to plant-based diets through the dedicated funding channels of Horizon Europe will ensure that more of the grain we grow is used directly for food. human consumption”.

We can keep spinning and making excuses. We can continue to defend the elimination of plastic straws to save the oceans while slaughtering its inhabitants with fishing that is no longer sustainable in any of its forms. We can continue advocating saving water in the shower while wasting many more liters to produce a hamburger made from animal meat (some say that we can’t call vegetable hamburgers). We can also continue to lament the grain shortage caused by the war in Ukraine while much of that grain is turned into fodder to feed an unviable industry. But we can also take advantage of the situation to change the chip and assume that we have to learn to live in another way. No alternative.

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