Europe’s food system is currently responsible for one-third of the continent's greenhouse gas emissions. It also plays a critical role in ecological and public health. The University of Copenhagen is leading the CLEVERFOOD initiative with the aim of supporting the transition towards a more sustainable system of food production and consumption for the benefit of public and planetary health.
With €8.1m in funding from the Horizon EU programme, the project aims to ‘transform the European food system into one that is more climate-friendly, protects nature and biodiversity, and promotes public health’ across the European continent.
"Current and future crises, including climate crisis, food crisis, biodiversity crisis and health crisis are inextricably linked to the way we produce food. Thus, the time has come to make a radical change, where all EU countries make a concerted effort to transform our food system by making it more fair, sustainable, circular and plant-based," explained Associate Professor Christian Bugge Henriksen of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.
For the next four years, Henriksen will lead CLEVERFOOD together with his team from the Climate and Food Security Group at the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.
Currently, collaboration is ‘insufficient’
The project coordinators believe this is a significant intervention because currently there is ‘insufficient’ coordination, collaboration and mutual learning between ongoing EU projects, initiatives, food policies and dialogues across all governance levels in Europe relating to the necessary transformation of our food system. There is a huge potential for establishing synergies between them to maximize their impact, they stressed.
"The purpose of CLEVERFOOD is to bring all of these existing projects together. Many good initiatives are already underway in the EU, such as ones that work to reduce agricultural emissions and promote biodiversity and health. However, they are fragmented and don’t cooperate across the board. Collaboration is at the heart of it all if we truly seek to effectuate change," explained Marin Lysák PhD, of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.
The researchers aim to bring together different stakeholders to facilitate change at a systems level. It will bring together ‘leading actors’, ranging from government agencies, universities, industries, and interest groups across Europe, to foster cooperation, coordination and synergy among existing, emerging and future EU projects focusing on food system transformation, linking with the EU Food 2030 Policy Framework.
Twenty-three actors, along with the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, will form a consortium to move the project forward. ‘Policy Labs’ will develop models for ‘transformative multi-level food system governance’ and strategies for advancing food policies and legislation by launching a peer-learning program, organising inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogues, and bringing together policymakers from all governance levels. Meanwhile ‘Living Labs’ will accelerate social and technological innovations by co-creating strategies for removing lock-ins and building sustainable food value chains, mobilizing impact investors, promoting uptake of new technologies and measuring food system transition progress.
The Policy and Living Labs will act as hubs to foster food system science competences of children and youth as well as drive public engagement, citizen empowerment and mass mobilization by unlocking the power of influencers, deploying an interactive food systems exhibition, and designating and supporting permanent competence centres across Europe to ensure society-wide commitment to transform the food system, the project lead said.
The need for political and public engagement
In addition to cooperation, one of the project’s major focus areas is legislation and advocacy. This will pave the way for common EU policies that support healthy and sustainable food systems, it is hoped. For example, high debt-to-income ratios across all European food system actors hinder farmers and food innovators adopting new technology and practices needed to transition to a circular, low carbon and a more plant-based future. This, the researchers insist, is a situation politicians must find solutions to.
European citizens also need to become more engaged with and invested in the necessary food system transformation, Lysák continued. Information and educational outreach for EU citizens needs to expand public awareness about healthy and sustainable foods in order to increase consumer demand for plant-based foods, he suggested.
"To succeed in transforming the food system, we also need to get citizens on board. Empowering, educating and mobilizing citizens to change their diets and contribute to changing our food system is imperative. In order to do this, CLEVERFOOD will support the cross cutting efforts to include more regenerative, resilient and plant based food production and consumption.”
The CLEVERFOOD project officially commenced on 1 January, with a kick-off meeting scheduled to take place in Portugal 20-22 February 2023, from there the FOOD 2030 Interactive Exhibition will visit 5 upcoming EU presidency countries, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Cyprus and Ireland and will host national dialogues, place-based initiatives and key events that provide many opportunities to get involved with the transformation of the food system.