Europe and food, the path to the global transition

Europe and food, the path to the global transition

May 13, 2021

Europe and food, the path to the global transition

New report by experts at the Barilla Foundation presented with an analysis of European food systems in terms of nutrition, agriculture and waste.

“The purpose of this report is to encourage debate, concrete action and solutions for a European Union (EU) food system that provides everyone with safe, affordable, nutritious and environmentally sustainable food”, says the “Europe and Food” report produced by the Barilla Foundation research team and presented in May 2021 and . 

“Transforming food production, consumption and trade into a healthy and environmentally sustainable system is possible, but it requires a drastic change in public attitudes, policies and knowledge and the ability to seize current opportunities for change” add the authors, who analyzed the current situation in EU countries (including the United Kingdom) also using the results of the Food Sustainability Index created by the Barilla Foundation in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit. 

Three main areas are explored: healthy and nutritious food, agriculture, food loss and waste.

Healthy and sustainable diets, a distant goal

As regards healthy eating, the snapshot taken by the report is far from encouraging. All EU countries are beset by high levels of overweight and obesity, both among adults and children: Southern Europe holds the sad record for the highest prevalence of overweight children and adolescents and in all the countries analyzed over one in two adults weighs too much

This situation, which promotes the development of non-communicable diseases linked to excess weight, is worsened by the fact that Europe is moving towards a “Western” type diet rich in protein, saturated fat, refined cereals, alcohol, sugar and salt and increasingly poor in fruit and vegetables. As the experts point out, there are guidelines for healthy eating, but they are not updated at the same time in all EU countries and only in Sweden and Germany is attention to the sustainability of diets included in these documents

Rejuvenating agriculture 

Agriculture is at the heart of European policies. The most recent Common Agricultural Policy turns the spotlight on the environment and climate and the European Green Deal provides for measures to build a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, particularly through education, science, research, innovation and digitalization. 

The fact remains that, in Europe, agriculture is currently responsible for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions (mainly from livestock farming) and that agricultural land is becoming degraded, particularly in southern European countries: out of 28 countries, 17 have a soil carbon content below the critical threshold of 1.5%, calculated as a percentage by weight. Last but certainly not least, European agriculture is “old”: only 5% of young people under 35 are employed in agriculture and the average age of farmers is 53. 

Waste, losses and how to fight them

On average, every European citizen throws away about 58 kg of food every year (87 kg in Belgium). Around 20% of the food produced in the Union is wasted and 3% is lost in the initial stages of the supply chain (harvesting and processing). The good news is that Europe is taking concerted action to fight food waste, establishing guidelines, for example, for food donations and for the use in farming of food no longer usable for human consumption. Not least the creation in 2020 of a common methodology to measure food waste and loss. Among the most virtuous countries in this respect are France, which was the first in the world to pass a law against food waste and loss in 2016, and Italy, with its regulations to facilitate food donations, change the labeling of food and provide tax incentives for people fighting against waste. Finally, there is no lack of digital tools, including apps that help producers and citizens to avoid waste and initiatives to promote a circular economy approach in the food sector as well. 

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