European elections 2019: old and new food-related sustainability challenges

European elections 2019: old and new food-related sustainability challenges

April 19, 2019

European elections 2019: old and new food-related sustainability challenges

Less than a month before the European elections in May 2019, we urgently need to take stock of the situation regarding current EU agri-food policies and new sustainability challenges in the sector.

“Voting in the European elections means shaping your future.” This is the response from the European Parliament to those who ask why it is important to cast your vote in the European elections, scheduled from 23 to 26 May 2019. As the website for the upcoming European elections states, each and every vote promotes democracy and influences decisions taken by the European Parliament on issues which have a direct impact on the daily lives of every citizen. Among these issues, food sustainability is undoubtedly of key importance which requires a common commitment to address old and new challenges, if we are to deliver this. Sustainable and healthy food systems are also highlighted as one of the goals listed in the Manifesto for a Sustainable Europe for its Citizens. The document is already supported by dozens of civil society organizations which, in the light of forthcoming European elections, have united to discuss a fundamental issue: “The Europe we want.”

Some challenges never change

The new European Parliament will need to tackle global food and sustainability challenge, at a European level. The EU must tailor its policies to meet Sustainable Development Goals and ensure a healthy diet for its population. In line with this, the joint FAO/WHO Regional Symposium on Sustainable Food Systems for Healthy Diets in Europe and Central Asia was held in Budapest, Hungary in December 2017. The meeting focused primarily on the link between food and malnutrition in various forms, some of which still persist and extend well beyond the health of the individual. Matters arising included addressing the issue of sustainable food systems by embracing broader environmental and social issues. In particular, discussions covered the need to create agri-food systems focused on sustainability, which would meet the nutritional requirements of citizens, especially the most vulnerable who cannot and must not be left behind. It also highlighted policy coherence - at all levels - on issues related to food sustainability, achievable through a targeted increase of resources and investment. Naturally environmental issues must be considered. There can be no healthy food choices that are not based on raising awareness of the fact that the food we put on the table has an impact on the environment in terms of consumption of resources (land, water, air) and climate change. In addition, the food system issues discussed during the symposium included the need to revive and “rejuvenate” the population involved in agriculture, especially in respect of young people and women, which is still central to many debates. Individual citizens must play a fundamental role in decisions concerning agricultural and food policies through active participation. Finally, and certainly of paramount importance are the issues of increasing consumer awareness in respect of food waste and need to build food systems where rural and urban areas are once more interconnected, alongside agri-food projects and initiatives. 

Towards a common food policy

“European agri-food policies today are not sustainable and are moving in the wrong direction from an economic, social and environmental point of view.” These are the harsh words of Karl Falkenberg, who has long been involved both in environmental policies within the EU and sustainable development for the European Political Strategy Center (EPSC), in the introduction of the report Towards a common food policy for the European Union. Published in February 2019 by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), the report summarizes work carried out over three years involving not only experts from the agri-food sector but also new actors, with diverse experience and skills, who analyzed current European food systems to understand how to make them truly sustainable. The final goal is to transform the European Agricultural Policy (CAP), which focused mainly on the quantitative aspects of agricultural production. A reformed European food policy is necessary to deliver sustainability which should be put in place now and implemented in line with IPES-Food experts’ five key objectives. The objectives begin with ensuring access to healthy soil and water for all, followed by creating newly resilient agri-food systems which are able to successfully withstand current climate changes. The third objective directly concerns the health of European citizens who must be able to access sufficient, healthy food suitable for their nutritional needs. Finally, the report focuses on integrated, cleaner and shorter supply chains, and on trade policies that should be based on sustainability, not just profit. Ultimately this presents a radical change of perspective in respect of the CAP, one which also requires a change in the criteria for evaluating what is good for the 28 countries of the EU. “This transition towards sustainable food systems cannot be effected in isolation but must bring together all other sectors of the economy”, the report concludes. 

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