Brussels Forum : The Food Sustainability Index takes a snapshot of Europe

Brussels Forum : The Food Sustainability Index takes a snapshot of Europe

June 21, 2018

Brussels Forum : The Food Sustainability Index takes a snapshot of Europe

A strong performance in many areas regarding the sustainability of agri-food systems but also scope for improvement among European Union countries, examined in detail by the Food Sustainability Index presented at the BCFN Forum in Brussels.

A study of the entire life-cycle of food sustainability, focusing on its economic as well as its social and environmental dimensions.” This is how Leo Abruzzese, Global Director of Public Policy for the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), described the Food Sustainability Index, developed in partnership by BCFN and EIU. The Index, now in its 3rd annual edition, is not merely a ‘ranking’ of countries according to their performance, but is rather a tool to identify best practices, namely the winning strategies that could help to achieve sustainability in Europe and throughout the world. “We should not forget that the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations tell us the goals we should achieve, but do not explain how we are to achieve them. In this respect, the Index could provide some concrete answers,” said Abruzzese in the speech he delivered at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition, organized by BCFN, which was held for the first time in Brussels in 2018 and was the first of three meetings scheduled to take place in the course of this year (with the next ones to be held in New York and Milan). 



By looking at 34 countries (accounting for 85% of global GDP) and 55 indicators, the Food Sustainability Index analyzes in detail the sustainability policies adopted by countries around the world, but in his speech, Abruzzese narrowed his focus to Europe. “There is no better opportunity than the Brussels Forum to talk about the goals attained by the countries of the European Union (EU), and also to address the areas we can still improve on,” said Abruzzese. 

Of the six strengths mentioned, the quality of Europe’s food loss and waste management policies is particularly impressive, with a positive example set by France, whose supermarkets are legally required to redistribute their food surpluses. Europe also scored good results with respect to organic agriculture and urban farming as well as animal welfare standards, the latter being an area in which EU countries are among the best in the world. The EU also performs well when it comes to farmers' working conditions and nutrition education. “Many European nations have compulsory nutrition education programs in place for young people, especially in school,” explained Abruzzese.

… and weaknesses

While Europe is a top performer in many of the areas examined by the Food Sustainability Index, there are others where greater efforts need to be made. One of the weaknesses concerns “diversity” in relation to both environmental biodiversity and gender diversity among agricultural workers. “Women account for less than 1% of farmers in the EU,” Abruzzese pointed out, adding that the average age of workers in the farming industry is around 57-58 years old. “The picture in this respect is far from sustainable, particularly when considered alongside the fact that public spending in research and development in the industry, at around 2% of GDP, is quite low,” he said. Another Achilles' heel when it comes to sustainability in Europe concerns nutritional challenges and especially meat and sugar/salt consumption levels, which are still too high. “As much as 13% of the German diet is made up of sugar,” stated Abruzzese, the highest rate in Europe in this respect.  “The data presented in this publication, as well as the data produced in the previous two years of work, is available to anyone wishing to view it. We are aiming for a transparent and interactive management of the Index, which will soon include a further 33 nations, many of them from sub-Saharan Africa, thereby providing an even more comprehensive picture of sustainability on a global level,” concluded Abruzzese. 

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