20.02.2019 |

Experts present new vision for sustainable food systems in Europe

A new food policy is required (Photo: CC0)

A group of leading food experts have mapped out a new vision for reforming European food systems in a report launched on February 7th. EU food and farming systems require a fundamental change of direction in order to address climate change, halt biodiversity loss, curb obesity, and make farming viable for the next generation, says the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). Their report is the result of a three-year process of participatory research, drawing on the collective intelligence of more than 400 farmers, food entrepreneurs, civil society activists, scientists and policymakers, as well as on the findings of major multi-stakeholder scientific assessments and the latest advice of the EU’s scientific bodies. The expert panel proposes a “Common Food Policy”, a policy framework setting a direction for the whole food system, realigning the various sectoral policies that affect food production, processing, distribution, and consumption, and refocusing all actions on the transition to sustainability. “A Common Food Policy can spark a wholesale transition to sustainable food systems in a way that the CAP, as a Common Agricultural Policy, cannot,” said IPES-Food co-chair and lead author Olivier De Schutter.

The panel argues that a Common Food Policy is needed to put an end to conflicting objectives and costly inefficiencies of existing policies. The report points out that policies affecting food systems in Europe – agriculture, trade, food safety, environment, development, research, education, fiscal and social policies, market regulation, competition, and many others – have developed in an ad hoc fashion over many years. “As a result, we have anti-obesity strategies, alongside agri-trade policies that make junk food cheap and abundant. We offer premiums to young farmers, alongside a subsidy model that drives up land prices and undermines access to land. And we have strict environmental standards, while the advisory services farmers would need to meet them are being defunded,” explained De Schutter. “A Common Food Policy can put an end to these costly contradictions by tackling the root of the problem: the way we make policies and set priorities in food systems,” he added. But a reform is also needed to harness social innovation and grassroots experimentation which is emerging rapidly at the local level, from community-supported agriculture schemes and farmers’ markets to the creation of local food policy councils and urban food policies. The authors write that these initiatives are often highly sustainable, reducing environmental impacts, and reconnect actors, such as producers and consumers. However, EU and national policies are ill-equipped to encourage this type of experimentation and those initiatives are often not eligible for CAP funding.

The report puts forward 80 short-, medium- and long-term reform proposals grouped around five objectives: (1) ensuring access to land, water, and healthy soils; (2) rebuilding climate-resilient, healthy agro-ecosystems; (3) promoting sufficient, healthy and sustainable diets for all; (4) building fairer, shorter and cleaner supply chains; and (5) putting trade in the service of sustainable development. “Farmers cannot simply be expected to shift to a new production model. We must take steps in parallel to guarantee access to land, to rebuild regional processing facilities, to facilitate access to markets, and to spark changes in consumption habits,” said De Schutter. IPES-Food calls for the creation of a European Commission Vice-President for Sustainable Food Systems and a Food Intergroup in the EU Parliament to oversee and harmonize sectoral policies. In addition, the experts want the EU to reform public procurement and value added tax rules, and restrict junk food marketing, in order to shift the incentives in favor of healthy and sustainable diets. Furthermore, EU member states should be obliged to develop Healthy Diet Plans (covering public procurement, urban planning, fiscal and social policies, marketing, and nutrition education) as a condition for getting CAP payments.

According to the experts, EU policies must be urgently reoriented towards low-input, diversified agroecological systems. Proposals include introducing an EU-wide ‘agroecology premium’ as a new rationale for CAP payments, incentivizing nitrogen-fixing legumes, pastures and agroforestry, putting independent farm advisory services in place, promoting farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing, and ultimately phasing out the routine use of chemical inputs. Moreover, food importers should be made accountable for ensuring their supply chains are free from deforestation, land grabbing and rights violations. Increasing support is needed for initiatives linking farmers and consumers (‘short supply chains’), relocalized processing and value-adding activities, local food policy councils, and urban food policies. “Ultimately, this report is a call to action,” concluded De Schutter, calling on the European institutions to take on the challenge of working with all food system actors to complete, adopt, and implement a food policy for Europe. “The Common Food Policy offers a Plan B for Europe: it is about reclaiming public policy for the public good, and rebuilding trust in the European project.” (ab)

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