Providing enough food for all requires a radical rethinking of how we produce and consume food


EESC initiates discussion on food sustainability


The challenge

The situation is troubling. The global population is projected to reach a staggering 9.6 billion by 2050, according to the UN. But the global food production system is struggling to feed the current population of up to 7.5 billion, with output only marginally exceeding consumption.

In addition, the way we currently grow, produce, transport and consume food puts enormous pressure on the environment and the climate, not to mention society and public health.

This situation is unsustainable, and that is why the EU has to take its role as the world’s largest exporter and importer of food products seriously.

Although Europe has taken major steps towards reform in all relevant sectors, from agriculture to research, a more holistic, and joined-up approach is necessary, contends the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

The latest effort in this regard is the exploratory opinion on ‘More sustainable food systems’, which is being prepared at the request of the Dutch EU Presidency and which will focus on farming, food production and distribution, food consumption and diets, the environment and healthcare, among other areas. Stakeholders' and experts views on this issue were gathered at a hearing organised by the EESC in Brussels on 11 March 2016.

The hearing, introduced by Peter Schmidt, EESC president of the Permanent Study Group on Food Security and chair of the Study Group on More Sustainable Food Systems (NAT/677), was an opportunity to explore diverse views and initiatives concerning Europe’s transition to more sustainable food systems, including the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation across the food supply chain.

Possible solutions

"The real value of food should be re-emphasized. Food is a central part of all our societies; is both dependent on, and affects, natural resources; has an impact on public health; and plays a pivotal role in the European economy, being the Union’s biggest sector in terms of employment and contribution to GDP ", said Mr Schmidt to introduce the discussion .

In the EESC’s vision one of the major themes is the issue of reducing food waste, which currently stands at 100 million tonnes in Europe and 1.6 billion tonnes (around 30% of the food) globally. Eliminating this waste will both help feed more people and protect the fragile environment. In addition to tackling food waste and providing food for those without enough, the EESC strategy seeks to tackle the obesity epidemic head-on by encouraging manufacturers to produce healthier food and raising public awareness about the importance of a healthy diet. Clementine O’Connor, Sustainable Food Systems Consultant to the World Resources Institute and UNEP presented some gloomy figures including for example

  • 1 out of nine is hungry, while 2 out of 10 are overweight.
  • 4.6 billion Dollars (4.1 billion Euro) are spent on advertising fast food, while only 116 million Dollars (104.4 million Euro) are spent on promoting fruits and vegetables.


"Food waste and unhealthy diets share many of the same causes, consequences and solutions. Adopting a combined approach would therefore be essential to achieve sustainability ", commented Ms O'Connor.

Eating healthier and consuming less meat is also good for the health of the planet. But it doesn’t end there. The food sector is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions – and the EESC proposes measures to address this.

The role of consumers is vital for a transition of the food system. Therefore information and education is key, which includes educating children on where food does come from, the quality of food, or the environmental food print.

The hearing also explored EU perspectives on how to meet growing food needs and the role of innovation in sustainable food systems of the future. The role of the EU is vital also in bringing other major markets on board. Several participants called for an EU food policy, bringing together different policies, such as agriculture, trade, environment, health, or social policy and also to combine different tools, such as legal regulation, economic incentives or taxes in order to develop a real sustainable food system.

Various civil society stakeholder views were given, including representatives from Oxfam Solidarité, the World Wildlife Fund UK, COPA COGECA, small businesses (UEAPME) and Eurocoop. Speakers underscored the importance of a holistic and system-wide approach to food security and sustainable production. In conclusion of the hearing, Mr Mindaugas Maciulevicius, EESC member and rapporteur of the opinion NAT/677, highlighted that more coherence is needed not only across policies but also across sectors.

The main findings will feed into the EESC's opinion which will be adopted at its May plenary.