The organisation has revealed the findings of its latest report interviewing consumers across 11 European countries, following news the European Commission has presented its blueprint for sustainable food and farming.
Questions included; How much attention do you pay to the impact of your food choices on the environment? Are you willing to cut down on red meat? Is the government doing enough to promote sustainable food?
It found consumers tend to underestimate the impact of their own food habits on the environment, but most are aware of the environmental impact of food habits in general and two thirds of consumers are open to changing their eating habits for the environment.
The report highlighted price, lack of knowledge, unclear information, an d limited choice of sustainable option s are what most consumers say prevent them from eating more sustainably.
Just over 40% of consumers say they have either stopped eating red meat or have cut down due to environmental concerns. While consumers have little appetite for insects and lab-grown meat, they better accept plant-based ‘burgers’ and traditional vegetarian food (e.g. pulses) as alternative protein sources.
It also found only 16% of consumers feel their government is doing enough to encourage food sustainability at production and consumption levels.
“Our survey shows most consumers are willing to change their eating habits, but that it is no easy task. Change must be rolled out at several levels to make the sustainable choice the obvious choice,” said Monique Goyens, director general, BEUC.
“Consumers are hungry for improved information on food labels and a wider range of sustainable options. But our individual choices as consumers can only do so much to transform food habits in the way experts urge us to.
“Regulators, food producers, and retailers have a crucial role to play to adjust pricing, marketing, and every other factor that push us to buy one food product over another.”
The survey by BEUC was carried out two months before the COVID-19 pandemic and shows consumers were already leaning towards more sustainable choices.
According to Goyens it is difficult to predict whether trends like home cooking or increased demand for local food will last, but policymakers should capitalise on them where they can contribute to a more resilient and sustainable food system.
Food is the main driver of environmental impacts generated by household consumption in the EU, followed by housing (especially space heating) and mobility (particularly the use of private cars).
The report found price ranks first among the barriers to eating more sustainably, in nearly all countries. Governments and consumer groups have a key role to play in making consumers realise that eating sustainably does not necessarily have to cost more. But it must go hand in hand with changes in food habits, such as reducing meat consumption, wasting less, and swapping water bottles for tap water.
Goyens added: “It comes across as difficult for many consumers to cut down on red meat, though our consumption in Europe is well above what is recommended for human and planetary health.
“At the same time, most people have nothing against eating more lentils, beans, and other pulses as an alternative to animal proteins. Sadly, the Commission missed a chance to stop funding campaigns stimulating meat consumption when it recently published its ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy for sustainable food.
“EU money would be better spent promoting food that we should eat more of to benefit our health and the planet.”
Click here to read the full report.
The survey was conducted in 11 countries across the globe including Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, and the Netherlands which found that consumers bought more fruit and vegetables and turned to healthier eating during coronavirus lockdowns.
Between 2016 and 2019, 24% of the EU agricultural promotion policy budget were allocated to campaigns promoting meat and meat products. Plans to stop stimulating meat production or consumption, which were part of some early May drafts of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly food system, were dropped from the final version. The EU’s agricultural promotion policy is currently being evaluated.