European food is famous for being safe, nutritious and of high quality. It should now also become the global standard for sustainability. Although the transition to more sustainable systems is starting, it remains a big challenge to feed a fast-growing world population and bring food systems within a safe and just operating space - encompassing planetary health, economic viability and social welfare, and including human health. Current production practices and consumption patterns still result in air, water and soil pollution, contribute to the loss of biodiversity and to climate change, may challenge animal welfare and consume excessive amounts of natural resources, including water and energy, while an important part of food is wasted. At the same time, unbalanced diets contribute to obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Here are some of the facts:
- Agriculture is responsible for 10.3% of the EU’s GHG emissions (1); Food is a significant source of GHG-emissions contributing to about 17% of EU household emissions, similar to housing (22%) (2);
- Nitrogen and phosphorus cycles exceed their safe operating space in Europe, respectively by a factor of 3.3 and 2 resulting in diffuse pollution of terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric ecosystems (3);
- Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) linked to the excessive and inappropriate use of antimicrobials in animal and human healthcare leads to an estimated 33,000 human deaths in the EU/EEA every year (4), and considerable healthcare costs;
- About 20% of the food produced in the EU is being wasted (5);
- One in five EU adults are obese and half are overweight (6). Many Europeans die prematurely, or suffer from illnesses due to diet related diseases.
In addition, the COVID19 pandemic highlighted the importance of robust and resilient EU food systems within a sustainable, circular bioeconomy to respond to global shocks and disruptions in supply chains, and to mitigate socio-economic impacts of crises notably as regards food poverty.
The Farm to Fork Strategy (https://ec.europa.eu/food/farm2fork_en)
, which is at the heart of the European Green Deal, aims to address the challenges and accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems, to ensure that the economic, social and environmental foundations of food and nutrition security are not compromised for current and future generations. It places emphasis on enabling a “just transition” for all actors of the food systems, in which also social inequalities are reduced, food poverty is addressed, and a fair income for all actors is ensured. It requires and builds on innovative systemic solutions that can be scaled up, such as smart agro-ecological practices, new protein sources other than meat, sustainable food from the oceans and aquaculture, and personalised advice relating to sustainable healthy diets. Concerted efforts are needed to test, demonstrate and scale-up such solutions and target impact in this decade.
(1) EEA (2019), Annual European Union greenhouse gas inventory 1990-2017 and Inventory report 2019. These figures do not include CO2 emissions from land use and land use change.
(4) Cassini et al., (2019) ‘Attributable deaths and disability-adjusted life-years caused by infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the EU and the European Economic Area in 2015: a population-level modelling analysis’, in Lancet Infect Dis. Vol.19, issue 1, pp. 55-56