EU needs a comprehensive food policy, says EESC

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/AdrianHancu
© GettyImages/AdrianHancu

Related tags Sustainable food systems Agriculture

Europe needs a comprehensive, over-arching food policy because the current system does not lead to sustainable food systems, according to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

A consultative body of the EU representing civil society, the EESC adopted its own-initiative opinion, entitled More Sustainable Food Systems, at a plenary session this week, attended by commissioner for health and food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis.

The opinion calls for a comprehensive food policy to ensure better coherence and integration of food-related policy objectives. It wants to see agricultural objectives linked to nutrition and the creation of supply chains that safeguard public health.

Political momentum for the development of a more holistic food policy approach has grown in recent years, the EESC said, with the UN declaring 2016-2025 the Decade of Action for Nutrition or efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Europe.

However, a common framework is needed to pull together the myriad of efforts and initiatives happening at local, regional, national and supranational levels.  

This could include creating a dedicated Directorate General for Food, overseeing all food-related policies, regulation, legislation and enforcement.

"More fairness in the market"

"The challenges ahead force us to reinvent European food policy and make it more comprehensive, respecting the whole supply chain​", said opinion rapporteur Peter Schmidt.

"We need to bring more fairness into the market and we need to make people understand the value of food."

The report says: “A transition to sustainable food systems requires a comprehensive food policy, integrated with a broad-based bioeconomy strategy, not an agricultural policy alone.”

“The EESC hopes that the interdependence of food production and consumption will be recognised and that a suitable European policy approach including different private initiatives will be developed charting a course towards sustainability, health and resilience. However, the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy will also play an important role in the EU in the future.”

Research, innovation and development are the main drivers of the transition to a sustainable food system, in line with climate policy objectives, the report says, and EU institutions should increase funding, and foster  collaboration so that findings are shared between the research communities, practitioners and other stakeholders.

The report acknowledges that “no food production system alone will safely feed the planet​” and calls for a combination of conventional, innovative and agro-ecological practices.

In particular, a mixture of precision agriculture, involving further development of information and communications technologies (ICT) and satellite systems, and agro-ecology could complement conventional agriculture by providing a set of principles and practices intended to enhance the sustainability of farming systems.”

Consumers also need to be taught to become "food (responsible) citizens", who are aware of the worth of sustainably produced and healthy food, the EESC said, which can be achieved through “a smart system of sustainable food labelling”.

Schmidt said: "While it is important to focus on nutritional and health aspects, we also need to inform consumers about the environmental and social impact of food."

Andriukaitis welcomed the EESC opinion as “very timely”​ and underlined the importance of civil society's support in food policy, especially when it comes to tackling food waste and health issues.

The opinion was drawn up at the request of the Dutch EU Presidency and published in May 2016.

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