With a rising global population, the question of how we can sustainably supply everyone with sufficient quantities of healthy food is becoming ever more pressing. Among the 17 measurable Sustainable Development Goals aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all, adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, nine are related to agriculture. Sustainable food is organic, local and fresh.
"We need a comprehensive, sustainable EU food policy that addresses food production and nutrition in a more comprehensive manner, promoting more sustainable production and consumption patterns; establishing a link across different policies areas, including among others food production, agriculture, environment, health, consumer policy, employment and rural development; bringing jobs and growth to Europe's regions and cities" stressed Arno Kompatscher (IT/EPP), President of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano and Regional Councillor, rapporteur of the CoRs' opinion adopted at its plenary session in Brussels today.
The EU's Commissioner for Health and Food Safety , Vytenis Andriukaitis, remarks "To enable citizens to choose healthy diets they must be able to have easy and affordable access to safe and nutritious food. Regrettably, in many of our cities junk food is easier to reach or cheaper than fresh fruit or vegetables. We have to change this. I am glad to see our cities and regions making their way towards this change because they are not just places where we shop, eat or move. They are living economic and production centres and have a lot to offer and contribute to better and longer lives. I will continue following with great interest the work of the CoR as regards to the promotion of healthier lifestyles, and in particular food provision and food waste policies."
The CoR – the EU's assembly of local and regional elected representatives – also called to further stimulate and sustain the development of small-scale farming systems, especially those located in vulnerable areas and on the periphery of cities. They stressed the need to continue developing alternative food networks, including farmers' markets, local foods, organic products where local producers offer healthy, high-quality food directly to consumers at fair prices. They further underlined the importance of strategic planning at their level which is crucial for reducing the overall environmental impact of the food systems. Green public procurement guidelines should be amended, in order to enable the promotion of local food, and support be given to more "city initiatives".
The photos of the "Visit of Committee of the Regions canteen - Sustainable food policy"
Today the EU is the biggest exporter of agricultural products across the world and agriculture is a key pillar of its economy. The agri-food sector employs 47 million people in 15 million businesses in fields such as food processing, retail and services, and contributes to a positive trade balance of EUR 17 802 m that represents 7.2% of the total value of EU exports. Agricultural production covers approximately half of Europe's land territory and is crucial for guaranteeing food security. Besides providing food, it has a very important socio-economic role to play, particularly in rural areas, and is of considerable cultural, historical and social value.
However, this intensive model of agriculture comes at a price. The EU's 2015 State of the Environment Report showed that European agriculture is a key factor in biodiversity loss, causing soil degradation, water contamination and decreasing numbers of pollinators. Agriculture has also a significant impact on the climate, being one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions through the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The food sector (including primary production) accounts for more than 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the expected 76% rise in global meat and animal product consumption by 2050, the situation could worsen. Industrial agricultural is also one of the root causes of biodiversity loss. Biodiversity suffers greatly with wildlife loss, as well as various species being abandoned and genetic diversity within species being lost. Food production is responsible for 60% of global terrestrial biodiversity loss.
Besides coping with this negative impact on the environment, future food production will have to deal with challenges brought on by the growing world population, estimated to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, changed food consumption patterns and increased urbanisation.