Upon request by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, Stefan Hörmann, Team Leader of the Department for Business and Biodiversity and Head of the Bonn Office at the Global Nature Fund (GNF, Germany), reports on the on-going Project "Biodiversity in Standards and Labels for the Food Industry" having been implemented in cooperation with the Fund’s international partners:

In August 2016, Global Nature Fund, Lake Constance Foundation, Agentur AUF! (Germany), the Fundación Global Nature (Spain), Solagro and agoodforgood (France) and Instituto Superior Técnico (Portugal) have initiated the new EU LIFE Project “Biodiversity in Standards and Labels for the Food Industry”. The main objective is to improve the biodiversity performance of standards and labels within the food industry, by supporting standard organisations to include efficient biodiversity criteria into their schemes; and motivating food processing companies and retailers to include biodiversity criteria into their sourcing guidelines.
How Are Biodiversity and Food Sector Interlinked?
The main task for global agriculture is to provide a proper and safe diet for everyone in order to ensure stable livelihoods. The fast-growing world population requires food security.
On the one hand, agriculture is important for the conservation of biodiversity, because the presence of many species and habitats is closely linked to extensive agricultural land-use. For example, approximately 50% of European species are dependent on agricultural habitats. On the other hand, agriculture is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss contributing to changes in land-use and destruction of primary ecosystems, over-exploitation and pollution of water and soils as well as the introduction of non-native invasive species. Intensive production systems result also in genetic erosion of agricultural biodiversity.
The UN Environment Programme states in a recent study:
‘Globally, food systems are responsible for
·         60% of global terrestrial biodiversity loss
·         around 24% of the global greenhouse gas emissions
·         33% of degraded soils
·         the depletion of 61% of “commercial” fish populations
·         the overexploitation of 20% of the world’s aquifers.’
In combination with the agricultural sector, food producers and retailers have a great impact on biodiversity. With the support of food standards and by applying own ambitious sourcing requirements, the food sector can contribute substantially to biodiversity conservation.

Assessing and Improving Food Standards
Recently, the project partners published the results of a screening of 54 regional, national, European and international standards for the food sector and requirements of food companies for their supply chain. The report provides a comprehensive overview on how protection of biodiversity is currently addressed in standards and company requirements. The policies of standards and companies as well as their criteria and requirements have been evaluated regarding effectiveness for biodiversity protection, their emphasis within the standard or company certification schemes and their transparency and verifiability. In many cases, there is a room for improvement for more effective criteria, better training of standard auditors, and for better support of farmers to fulfil requirements of standards.
Currently, GNF and its partners are elaborating of recommendations for the improvement of standard policies and criteria as well as requirements of companies regarding their supply chain. These recommendations will be prepared in cooperation with standard organisations, companies, certifiers, NGOs, and other experts and are going to be shared with more than 400 standards with relevance for the European market. That will be published at the end of 2017 on the project web portal: www.food-biodiversity.eu.
Promoting Biological Diversity at Farms
In addition, an Easy Guide will be published on biodiversity criteria in standards, labels, and corporate guidelines in Spanish, French, Portuguese, English, and German. The Easy Guide will provide information about basic requirements, which standards should fulfil (e.g. definition of terms, coverage of all aspects of drivers for biodiversity loss, etc.) and examples for good biodiversity criteria in standards.
With the help of a newly developed Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT), the current situation (baseline) and the further development for biodiversity protection on farms can be analysed. Through pilot projects involving farms in cereal cultivation (Germany), tomato cultivation (Spain), olive production (Spain), grasslands used for meat and dairy production (Portugal and France), the BPT as well as biodiversity measures will be tested. Finally, a cross-standard monitoring system and database will be set up for tracking the biodiversity performance at the farm level. Using this database, agricultural standard organisations and companies will be able to monitor the positive effects and will have a solid basis to improve their criteria and measures.
European Sector-Wide Initiative “Biodiversity Performance in the Food Sector”
By 2020, a European sector-wide initiative “Biodiversity Performance in the Food Sector” will be established. Its aim is the continuous improvement and implementation of effective biodiversity criteria in the food sector. This includes a continuous work towards biodiversity protection hand in hand with stakeholders from the food sector (standard and label organisations, food processing companies, producer organisations, and environmental protection organisations).
The target audiences of the initiative are:
·         Standard and label organisations relevant for the food sector in the EU
·         Certifiers/auditors/inspectors of standards and labels
·         Owners and managers of certified farms/companies
·         Food processing companies and retailers with requirements for the supply chain
·         Companies without own specific requirements
·         Procurement managers in local authorities, canteens, hospitals
·         Business media and sector specific media
The project is financially supported by the EU LIFE Programme and has been endorsed as a “core initiative“ of the Programme on Sustainable Food Systems of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (UNEP /FAO).