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European Economic and Social Committee aims for paradigm shift in EU food production and consumption

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19/06/2019

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) issued an opinion on 20 February 2019 on ‘Promoting healthy and sustainable diets in the EU’ (OJEU C190, 5 June 2019). This own-initiative opinion aims to promote healthy and sustainable diets as one of the key pillars of a comprehensive EU food policy, in what the EESC sees as an opportunity “to accelerate a paradigm shift”.

According to the EESC, “the old idea of simply aiming for enough food supply is no longer an adequate policy”. The EU should also consider how food is produced and consumed and what its impacts in the short and long term are in terms of pollution, climate, health, biodiversity and more.

The interconnectedness of food and other complex policy problems (such as health, environment and society) requires a more comprehensive approach on diets. The EESC therefore calls for the development of new Sustainable Dietary Guidelines, which should “provide cohesion and shared purpose, and take into account cultural and geographical differences between and within EU Member States. Simply reducing the use of resources in production and changing ingredients, does not translate into better or healthier diets.”

The system of agriculture and food production has a major impact on the environment (e.g. on the climate, biodiversity, water and soil ecosystems). The EU can lower the impact of unnecessarily processed food systems by encouraging simple nutrients, rather than energy-dense diets. The proposed guidelines would help create clearer direction for farms, processors, retailers and foodservice. “The agri-food system would benefit from a new ‘framework’ to produce, process, distribute and sell healthier and more sustainable food with a fairer price,” so the opinion states.

The EESC also highlights that the approaches to food labelling should also be harmonised in accordance with these guidelines, to improve transparency and discourage the use of unhealthy and unsustainable raw materials. This would allow consumers to consciously shift their product choices towards healthier and more sustainable options. Current policies focus on nutrition and other health claims, but the EESC notes “rising concerns about the lack of consumer information and education on the environmental and social impact of food.” Traceability and clear labelling on the origin, means of production and nutritional value of food would facilitate consumers’ choices. Modern technologies such as mobile apps consumer displays in the retail sector, can contribute to the shift to more informed consumer decisions.

The EESC considers “the full range of public governance tools ” as appropriate instruments to discourage unhealthy foodstuffs and to promote healthy eating habits.

To put these principles into practice, the EESC calls for the creation of an expert group, tasked with formulating these EU-wide sustainable dietary guidelines within two years. This expert group should include relevant professional and scientific bodies from an interdisciplinary range of related scientific fields. The guidelines would become available for use at the national level (for instance in healthcare services and institutions of public policy) and at the EU level, to help develop clear integrated frameworks for the food supply chain.