Article: A challenging year gone by; another one to come

By Jamie Fortescue

As the holiday season draws nearer, it is a good time to take stock of the year (almost) gone by, and to start looking ahead to the year to come, now just around the corner.

It will be no surprise if I say up front that 2022 has in many ways been a difficult year for the EU. It has also been a very busy year for the EU starch sector.

First of all, this year, Starch Europe finalised and published the results of our 2021 sector-wide LCA Study - a large undertaking, given our ambition to go deeper and broader than our previous studies. It has also seen our sector placing itself firmly on the path - in fact, leading the pack - to help fulfilling the EU’s wider decarbonisation ambitions.

Just a few months ago Starch Europe published the European Starch sector’s decarbonisation roadmap 2019-2030, making us the first AgriFood chain sector to demonstrate such clear commitments, though we are certain many will follow.

Our tasks were not made easier, though, by other events this year. Having barely started seeing our economy in post-COVID recovery, progress was halted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bringing with it war at our doorstep and fears for our sector’s very ability to operate - and with it, our customers’ - under looming threats of energy and raw material shortages and rationing of gas.

Focus - at least momentarily - shifted sharply, from progress to operational survival.

Rationing, support and the Single Market

Whilst the threat of gas rationing this winter seems to have been averted, these fears and difficulties will carry over into 2023, no doubt about it. Anyone hoping for a swift resolution to the war in Ukraine, and thus a quick return to the COVID recovery path, quickly has had their hopes dashed.

For European starch producers, some assurances were given through the recognition of the food and health supply chains as societally critical in the July ‘Save energy for a safe winter’ communication and the inclusion of our sector in the list of priority sectors for potential state aid in the October revision of the European Commission’s Temporary Crisis Framework. The signals from Brussels are generally welcomed but the detail will be in national implementation.

This signals further potential disparity emerging between EU member states within the Single Market, with the potential for ever-increasing distortion. While some may think this an inevitability in times of crisis, it remains for us as for many in the broader AgriFood sector a very dangerous trend. All the more, in 2023, as we prepare to celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the Single Market - the jewel in the crown of the European Union. State support in helping EU industry in its decarbonisation efforts is to be welcomed, and may indeed be essential if the EU is to be able to continue to compete globally in response to initiatives such as the US Inflation Reduction Act, but it should not be at the expense of Single Market fragmentation.

While energy will clearly remain at the top off the EU agenda - and our minds and concerns - for the foreseeable future, I find it crucial that we continue to think and act in unison to protect this most critical pillar of the Union.

The Green Deal agenda

With EU elections coming in 2024, next year will likely be even busier than 2022 with details of much of the EU Green Deal agenda still to be clarified. For the EU starch sector, whether it be the impact on our production costs and/or raw material supply or on customer demand, these details can significantly influence our investment decisions going forward.

On top of the evolution of existing Commission proposals including the Industrial Emissions Directive revision (IED), the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, Carbon Removals and the Sustainable Use of Pesticides legislation, proposals expected next year likely to impact the sector include the Promotion Policy review, Food Information to Consumers (FIC) revision and New Genomic Techniques.

Next year should see the publication of the Sustainable Food Systems Framework legislation proposal. Like many others in Brussels, I am looking forward to seeing how the Commission views the road ahead.

Starch producers have long known that the way forward will require innovation efforts. For many years already, they have worked hard to come up with their answers to the challenges of making diets more sustainable. The inclusion in this framework legislation clear pathways to help increase the uptake of plant-based proteins as well as fibres in EU diets, for example, would prove very positive signs for our industry.

2022 has seen our Starch producers continue their commitments on furthering overall sustainability, both through their continued joint educational efforts towards consumers and their efforts on worker’s health and safety through the Starch Europe Safety Programme. 2023 will be no different.

Our commitments towards all 3 pillars of sustainability are now further enshrined through Starch Europe’s signing of the EU Code of Conduct for Responsible Business and Marketing Practices this December, clearly signalling our ambition to continue to do our part towards a more sustainable food system.

I, personally and alongside the full Starch Europe team and our entire industry, look forward to another challenging but positive year in 2023 and - to conclude with a little holiday cheer, - wish you all a lovely holiday season.

December 22, 2022