Food is at the centre of our lives and an integral part of the European culture. However, the food we eat, the ways we produce it and the amounts wasted have major impacts on human health, natural resources and society as a whole:
- Citizens –and children in particular– are increasingly suffering from overweight and obesity due to unhealthy diets.
- Farmers and workers do not get a fair price for their produce.
- One third of food is lost or wasted across the food chain.
- The environment is paying the bill with the dramatic effects of food production and consumption on climate change, loss of biodiversity, air and water pollution, soil degradation, etc.
The COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call for change. It has demonstrated that getting food "from farm to fork" cannot be taken for granted and has shown the interconnectedness of actors and activities throughout the food system. Fair, resource efficient, inclusive and sustainable supply chains in the whole agriculture and food sector are needed more than ever to deliver equally for citizens, farmers, workers and business.
The EESC has been for years at the forefront of calling for a sustainable and comprehensive food policy. Such an integrated and systemic approach is essential to tackle the multiple and interconnected challenges affecting food systems; to deliver economic, environmental and socio-cultural sustainability; to ensure integration and coherence across policy areas (such as agriculture, environment, health, education, trade, economy, technology, etc.); and to promote cooperation across levels of governance.
At the request of the French Presidency of the Council of the EU, in the opinion on Food security and sustainable food systems adopted at its plenary session on 19 January 2022, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) identified the key levers for sustainable and competitive EU food production and for reducing dependence on imports while increasing the EU's protein autonomy.
Strengthening local and regional food production and processing within the EU and guaranteeing decent working conditions for all workers in agriculture and the wider food sector are important objectives in seeking to improve the sustainability of the European food supply chain. Other aspects of key importance to sustainability are fair international trading practices, encouraging more women and young people into the farming sector, and structured stakeholder involvement and dialogue.
Extraordinary meeting of the Diversity Europe Group in the context of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU and the Conference on the Future of Europe on 29 November 2021
Recent events caused by COVID-19, extreme weather due to climate disruption, cyber-attacks and Brexit demonstrate the need to rethink priorities and improve the resilience and sustainability of EU food systems by reinforcing its autonomy. Food security is not a given for many EU citizens.
On World Sustainable Gastronomy Day, the EESC stresses the importance of setting the sustainability bar high on how the world should aspire to feed itself in the coming decades. It is critical to take into account where ingredients come from, how food is grown and how it gets from farms to our forks, and to carry out the urgent transformations needed to achieve more sustainable food systems. All citizens and stakeholders across all food chains, in the EU and elsewhere, should benefit from a just and inclusive transition, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn.
A statement by Andreas Thurner, newly elected president of the Thematic Group on Sustainable Food Systems, on sustainable, healthy, inclusive and fair food systems and the specific priorities for his mandate.