Calls for EC to link agriculture and health policy

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

CAP should be linked to health agenda, MEP Heart Health Group hears ©iStock
CAP should be linked to health agenda, MEP Heart Health Group hears ©iStock
European health campaigners and some MEPs argue the European Commission should take a joined up approach to its food, agriculture and health policy by linking farmer payments to the healthiness of the food they produce.

Members of the MEP Heart Health Group in the European Parliament gathered earlier this week (24 April) to look at how European food and drink policy can support cardiovascular health.

According to the European Heart Network (EHN), which supports the MEP Group by running its secretariat, poor diet is now a “leading contributor”​ to ill health and early death. Poor diet accounts for “over half”​ the deaths in men and “over 40%”​ of the deaths in women in the European region and the EU, EHN said. The economic cost of diet-related cardiovascular disease (CVD) is estimated to be 49% of the total yearly cost of CVD in the EU, totalling €102bn.

Linking CAP to plant-based products

A heart-healthy diet includes vegetables, fruit and berries “in abundance”.​ Whole grain products, nuts and seeds, fish, pulses, low-fat dairy products are “also important”​, as are non-tropical vegetable oils in modest amounts. “This means a shift in consumption towards more plant based products,”​ EHN suggested.

The health group insisted that the Common Agricultural Policy is still “disconnected”​ from nutrition and public health policy.

“A radical change in food consumption and production is essential if we wish to create an environment where the healthy choice is the ‘by-default’ choice. This will help address health inequalities and will be a positive move towards meeting sustainable development goals, including improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture,”​ Karin Kadenbach, co-chair of the Heart Health Group and MEP for Austria, said in her opening remarks.

“The upcoming reform of the CAP is an opportunity to take this into consideration and work towards an improved and sustainable food supply chain.”

‘Not the EC’s position’

Jens Schaps, director of agriculture and rural development at the European Commission, who attended the meeting told FoodNavigator that the EC does not support using CAP to deliver health policy. “Of course you want to support healthy diet, there is no doubt. [But linking agriculture and health policy] is not the position of the Commission.”

The Commission’s budget does, however, include a project to develop plant-based protein products through its Protein Plan, the director continued.

“We have a protein plan, which will concentrate on home grown protein products like peas, beans and lentils. This is a project that is running and will come to conclusions in second half of the year.”

The scheme is designed to look at “the total protein complex”.

“This includes [the balance of] protein imports, the animal feed component, the competitiveness of home grown protein crops in the EU… but it also includes the direct human consumption aspect. A lot of these products are also very suitable for direct human consumption. This certainly also impacts the supply chain and how we organise the marketing… There are campaigns possible in terms of health and nutrition.”

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