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The Exploratory opinion on "More sustainable food systems" (Rapporteur: Mindaugas Maciulevičius), requested by the Netherlands presidency of the EU, was adopted by the European Economic and Social Committee at its plenary session on 26 May 2016. The opinion calls for the development of a comprehensive food policy in the EU and for an implementation plan to promote sustainable, resilient, healthy, fair and climate-friendly food systems, integrating food-related policy objectives and involving all relevant stakeholders in the food supply chain.
While around 795 million people around the globe are hungry, figures show that a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally ̶ 100 million tonnes in the EU alone. Furthermore, the demand for food is set to increase exponentially by 2050. According to the UN International Resource Panel, food production has the highest environmental impact of any sector in terms of resource use at the global level, resulting in deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water and air pollution. This impact also extends to climate change.
Cooperation and an integrated approach are needed
Considering the multiple economic, environmental and social consequences of food production and consumption, the EESC has emphasised the necessity of adopting a holistic approach when dealing with food policy, also in the context of the EU efforts to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The EESC encourages an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together the relevant DGs in the Commission, ministries and institutions in the Member States, and regional and local authorities and stakeholders, in order to establish a comprehensive policy on the transition to more sustainable food systems.
Climate change is part of the equation
It is also important to consider the growing challenges facing stakeholders in the food supply chain: an increasing demand for food combined with pressure to reduce environmental impact for food producers on the one hand, and a shift on the part of consumers towards more healthy and nutritious diets with a lower carbon footprint on the other. The EESC insists that EU policies should promote a gradual transition to fossil fuel-free agricultural models, a more efficient use of resources such as land, water and nutrients, and make sustainable food choices more accessible to consumers, in order to tackle the impact of food production and consumption on climate change.
The economic and social dimension cannot be ignored
The economic and social aspects of a successful sustainable food policy must not be ignored. The opinion acknowledges that for operators in the supply chain to invest in agri-environment technologies and climate-friendly techniques, a steady and reasonable income is necessary. Nonetheless, the EESC does insist that food pricing should be considered from the perspective of both consumers and producers, due to its social effects and the recent shift in bargaining power in favour of a concentrated industry of food manufacturers and retailers.
A far more complex issue
The EESC's opinion has also tackled other far-reaching factors, which need to be considered if a sustainable food policy is to be implemented successfully ̶ among others, food waste prevention and reduction, promoting healthier and more sustainable diets, the importance of research and innovation and the need to tackle animal and plant diseases to increase the robustness of the food system.