'We can democratise our food systems'

| 29th September 2021 |

The Small Change, Big Difference campaign demonstrates what 3.75kg of wasted food - the amount thrown away by 14 households - actually looks like.

What role should the EU take in reforming our broken food system?

Healthy food environments should be the objective, rather than the narrow interests of big business

Our food system is broken. The harm can no longer be ignored: environmental degradation, destruction of biodiversity, global warming, poverty wages and chronic health problems.

The Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system, launched in May 2020, finally acknowledged these longstanding problems, proposing 27 actions that have the potential to steer us away from this destructive path.

This might be our last chance. For it to succeed, the EU must be willing to face its contradictions and resist pressure from corporate interests.

Boundaries

Crucially, the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy needs to open the path for a Common Food Policy that brings consistency across all EU policy areas. For example, we cannot truly restore biodiversity or successfully achieve a protein transition while heavily subsidising the intensive livestock industry and signing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) that directly contradict these goals.

The EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement is a case in point. Successive studies have indicated how the agreement will fuel the rapid destruction of the Amazon forest, reward toxic pesticide producers and encourage industrial livestock production.

The EU is the second biggest importer of deforestation worldwide. In 2017, the EU was responsible for 16 percent of deforestation associated with international trade, mostly from soy, palm oil and beef imports.

Yet the Commission has not only expressed its intention to press ahead with the EU-Mercosur Agreement, ignoring opposition from climate and human rights campaigners and national parliaments but is currently negotiating these so-called “second generation” FTAs with another 20 countries and regional blocks.

Healthy food environments should be the objective, rather than the narrow interests of big business

We need a food system that respects the boundaries of the Earth instead of exploiting its finite resources to exhaustion. These goals need to be translated into concrete legislative and non-legislative action through the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Epidemic

Large agribusinesses still dominate global food production. They work in symbiosis with chemical corporations like Bayer that promote destructive food production practices in the name of profit.

This means genetically modified crops that damage the fragile balance of ecosystems, monopolisation of the seed sector, the wanton use of toxic pesticides and antibiotics damaging human and animal health, the commodification of animal exploitation and export-oriented farming.

Their expansion comes at the expense of sustainable farming and agroecology that for centuries have prevailed in Europe.

Around 20 percent of the food produced in the EU is lost or wasted, costing €143 billion per year in terms of squandered resources and environmental impact.

Food systems are also driving a health epidemic. Unhealthy diets, high in salt, sugar, fat and animal protein are a leading risk factor for disease and mortality in Europe.

Democratise

More than half of the European population is overweight, more than 20 percent are obese and these numbers are rising.

Promoting healthy foods and diets means addressing the overconsumption of meat and ultra-processed products with measures such as mandatory EU front-of-pack nutritional labels and setting maximum levels of sugars, salt and fats.

The precautionary and do no harm principles, rectifying problems at the source, extending producer responsibility and true cost accounting should be leading principles in the transition towards a healthy and sustainable food system.

The agribusiness lobby and pesticides giants are doing all they can to weaken these principles in the Farm to Fork Strategy. They are pushing for more of the same technology-led, market-led, and industry-led approaches that will protect them from accountability.

We need to move towards integrated food policies that can remedy the democratic deficit in food systems and rebalance power. By shifting the focus from agriculture to food, we can democratise our food systems.

Pandemics

Healthy food environments should be the objective, rather than the narrow interests of big business. Citizens, therefore, play a crucial role in the transition to healthy and sustainable choices.

They should be given the means to understand where food comes from, how it is produced and whether the price they pay for food actually covers all the production and environmental costs.

The Commission has committed to evaluate and revise existing animal welfare legislation. This is arguably the result of growing citizen awareness and demand for higher standards of animal welfare.

The End the Cage Age European Citizens’ Initiative has gathered 1.4 million signatures, calling for an immediate end to the suffering of millions of caged farmed animals across Europe.

Furthermore, confining animals increases the susceptibility of infectious diseases and the emergence of new diseases and pandemics.

Pesticides

Stricter enforcement of animal welfare standards ultimately should lead to infringement procedures against repeat offenders.

Moving away from intensive livestock farming practices and decreasing livestock densities would not only benefit animal welfare, but is also in the interest of our climate, biodiversity and public health.

We need a regenerative kind of agriculture, which is climate resilient, agro-ecological and socially just.

While setting reduction targets for pesticide use in the Farm to Fork Strategy is a welcome step, the ultimate goal should be a complete ban on all toxic pesticides.

Incentives

Building fairer, shorter and cleaner supply chains and promoting sufficient, healthy and sustainable diets for all, including building in the right incentives into food prices, can help make sustainable and healthy food choices more accessible and affordable to consumers.

The legislative framework that the Commission has announced must set the agenda for a fundamental change in the entire food system. All sectoral legislation and policies should contribute to that goal.

Destructive food production practices, those with a negative impact on climate, biodiversity, soil, water and animal welfare, should not receive climate funding.

Instead, there must be the right incentives for all actors in the food chain to make sustainable choices.

This is how we can ensure that the way we produce and consume is aligned with the planet’s boundaries, guidelines for health, and the moral codes we want to live by.

This Author

Anja Hazekamp is the European Parliament’s co-rapporteur on the commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy and a member of The Left group, Netherlands.

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