Sustainable, local and healthy food was the focus of the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) of the European Committee of the Regions. Representatives of local authorities stressed the need to establish a link across different policies areas, including food production, agriculture, environment, health and consumer policy, employment and rural development among others - thus ensuring consistency between all relevant EU legislation and financial incentives. A common, long-term vision is needed to address three main problems: ensuring the production of affordable food to meet growing demand; ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources without damaging the environment and endangering the biodiversity, and finally contributing to the balanced territorial development of the EU's rural areas and their communities.
With the rising global population, the question of how we can sustainably supply everyone with sufficient quantities of healthy food is becoming ever more pressing. According to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as a result of population growth and changes in diet and incomes, food demand is likely to rise by 70 % by 2050.
"Europe needs a sustainable food policy based on the added value represented by the various food cultures existing and at the same time uniform market rules that strengthen the regional cycles of production and consumption" stressed Arno Kompatscher (IT/EPP), President of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano and Regional Councillor, rapporteur for the opinion entitled Towards a sustainable EU food policy that creates jobs and growth in Europe's Regions and Cities, at the 12th meeting of the NAT Commission, held in Brussels on 2 February.
Sustainable food production is a response to the growing public awareness of the current impact of food production on the environment, as well as trends for healthier and ethically produced food. Sustainable food is organic, local and fresh.
The representatives of the local authorities emphasised the need to stimulate and support the development of small-scale farming systems and promote the diversification of cultivated species and organic farming, and supported the development of alternative food networks, including farmers’ markets.
The NAT opinion places emphasis on information campaigns promoting healthy nutrition: adopting more plant-based diets with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, reducing meat, fat and sugar consumption, and encouraging the purchase of local/regional, fresh and seasonal foods produced using sustainable production methods.
Existing constraints within public procurement rules should be clarified through guidelines and sustainability criteria included, in order to enable the promotion of local food. Moreover, strategic planning at regional and local level for reducing the overall environmental impact of the food system should be fostered.
Today the EU is the biggest exporter of agricultural products across the world and agriculture its key economic pillar. 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 million 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 guarantying 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.
CoR Resolution on Sustainable Food
tel. +32 2 282 2289