Commission needs to comply with promised launch of sustainable food communication

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

[National Institutes of Health]

Food for a healthy, balanced diet. [National Institutes of Health].

The promised launch of the Communication on Sustainable Food by the European Commission, initially planned for 2013, has once again been postponed. This is a significant set back for the much-needed reevaluation of Europe’s food system, write a group of NGOs.

This opinion piece was co-authored by Slow Food International, Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth Europe.

The communication is crucial in order to move to a food system that provides nutritious food, promotes a healthy diet, consumes less land and water, and rebuilds soil quality while restoring biodiversity and ecosystems and protecting animal welfare.

The initial aim of the Communication on Sustainable Food, as conveyed by the Environment directorate general, was to limit waste throughout the food supply chain, and find ways to lower the environmental impact of food production and consumption patterns. However many civil society organisations feel this is not enough and a more holistic approach is needed.

So, what are the key elements* that should be included?

Better technical knowledge on the environmental impacts of food

Knowledge about sustainable food and agriculture should be developed through meaningful inter-disciplinary networks, involving a wide range of stakeholders. Integrating local and traditional knowledge with formal scientific knowledge, and adapting institutions to be more responsive to stakeholder needs, is crucial if we are to successfully address the global and regional challenges of our food system. Agricultural research and development must explicitly address the multiple functions of agriculture.

Stimulating sustainable food production

The last Common Agricultural Policy reform did not achieve its aim of introducing strict mandatory measures to stimulate sustainable food production. Member states are now free to decide how to spend the money, and subsidies can still support harmful environmental practices. The next reform should ensure a transition towards more sustainable levels of supply and demand at a European level.

Promoting sustainable food consumption

It is now essential to develop programs and pilot programs that inform and educate consumers on food sustainability, on how to waste less and on how to eat a sustainable, healthy diet – in particular, given the massive ecological footprint of unhealthy diets, the need to eat more plants and less and better meat, dairy and fish. We need to see strong member state measures that are backed by EU wide guidance, support and initiatives that will lead to habitual behavior change.

Reducing food waste and losses

A voluntary target to reduce food waste by 30%, as part of the Circular Economy Package, is disappointing considering the high quantities of food waste and losses across the supply chain and in Europe. Food waste is a major symptom of an unsustainable food system. Therefore, a food waste reduction strategy across Europe, with mandatory reduction targets, is needed to change the current model of producing, retailing and consuming food, and to put in place the necessary measures to ensure that food waste does not occur in the first place.

Improving food policy coherence

Given the huge impact of the food system on the economy, public health, the environment and resource use, a coherent and integrated policy framework is needed, which ensures involvement of all relevant departments to create effective policy reform to develop EU wide strategy on sustainable food. This should work to ensure the development of a Common Sustainable Food Policy, which addresses not only the sustainability of farming, food production and trade, but also of food and environmental quality, health, resource and land management, ecology, social and cultural values, and the shape of the entire agricultural and food market chain.

Thanks to many civil society organisations and groups campaigning for a more sustainable food system, many solutions already exist. However, the political support needed for their development and implementation is lacking. It remains to be seen if and when these recommendations will be heard.

* These elements were originally expressed by Slow Food International, Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth Europe in a letter sent to Commissioner Janez Potoc?nik at the beginning of 2014 and were resent on 16 July following the announcement that the launch of the Communication on Sustainable Food had been postponed.

The full letter sent on 16 July is available here:

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