On 2 April 2014 in Brussels, EU Food Sense, the European Parliament’s Cross-Party Sustainable Food Steering Group, with the help of the food waste campaign ’Feeding the 5000’, organised the European Parliament’s Sustainable Food Conference ‘The Commission’s imminent food policy: Sustainability or standing still?’ to discuss the European Commission’s upcoming Sustainable Food Communication and hear expert recommendations on how policymakers should act to bring about a balanced system that respects health, environmental and agricultural concerns. The event was opened with a speech and Q&A from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, followed by food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart and a panel of expert speakers, including European Commission representatives.
Edward McMillan-Scott, a British Liberal Democrat MEP and Chairman of the Sustainable Food Steering Group and Vice-President of the European Parliament opened the discussion. He emphasised the long history of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) focussing on the producer ensuring high production during economic hardships. In his view, however, CAP should focus more on the consumer and take their diet, health and poverty into account. He called for a more coherent, sustainable approach through joint actions between the Parliament and the Commission.
Professor Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, highlighted why the right to food is important and his hopes for the Sustainable Food Communication. He emphasised that everyone needs to be more aware of their own ecological ’food print’ and should reconsider their eating behaviour as we now consume 4400 kcal on average per person per day - twice as much as what we actually need. Meat consumption in particular is too high and and there is a need to shift to a diet more based on fresh fruit, vegetables and pulses. Additionally, our production is not balanced with our consumption. Huge inefficiencies are a major problem in our world, with an alarming one third of total production being wasted - a greater focus on food waste is therefore urgently needed. De Schutter underlined that "70% of land is used for industrial production, most notably in countries such as Argentina where the EU uses 70 million hectres. Land is becoming a scarce resource with wealthy consumers using resources of the global south. Until now, we have not connected agricultural policy to public health and nutrition". What is especially missing were clear commitments and quantified measures , identifying the responsible actors instead of vague promises. The European Parliament could monitor these commitments and play an important role.
The discussion revealed that more space for local initiatives should be provided and a societal movement, across many different aspects of society, is necessary. Tristam Stuart, the food campaigner and founder of Feeding the 5000 and the Pig Idea, is one person who has demonstrated the effectiveness of how single projects can input to EU policy making. Stuart said that he identifies an "enormous knowledge gap".
Emer Costello, Labour Party MEP for Dublin and a member of the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament, was a co-chair and shared her experience as a substitute member of the Development Committee. She is the Parliament’s Rapporteur for the new €3.5 billion ‘Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived’ (2014-2020). She shared positive examples on how food waste can be reduced while also mentioning the Food Cloud App in Ireland. As part of this, the organisation picks up food waste from local supermarkets. In addition, Costello mentioned that the Fund for European Aid for the Most Deprived was not just about feeding people, but about social inclusion. EPHA supports this view and thinks that the most deprived need especially good quality food. A change in the food system should start with public health. Chantal Bruetschy, the Head of the Innovation and Sustainability, DG SANCO said that preventing food waste and food losses from farm to fork without compromising food safety also underlined that we should be involving all stakeholders.
The Co-chair Sirpa Pietikäinen, a Finnish Member of the European People’s Party (EPP) and a Member of the European Parliament since 2008, said that "we need a systemic change and we should have a separate directorate for food whereas no directorate is needed for CAP. Sustainability, the environment and nutrition are the most important aspects that should be taken into consideration".
Ben Caspar, Coordinator of the Sustainable Food Communication was able to give an update on the development of the Communication. He emphasised that a major concern was that it only focused on food waste, without showing how other areas are part of the problem as well. The Communication also adds to Europe’s overall Europe 2020 strategy as resource efficiency, including that of the food system, is part of the strategy.. He said that a needs assessment and a clear vision is necessary for future success.
Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, made recommendations for a Sustainable Food Policy in the European Union by presenting his recent book ‘Farmageddon- the True Cost of Cheap Meat’. Towards the end, Barbara Unmüßig, President of Heinrich Böll Foundation, demonstrated the policymakers’ need to address the global impact of meat consumption while relating it to the Meat Atlas report, which has just been released in English. In this Meat Atlas, evidence can be found of how far corporate action is necessary at an EU level. In her view, citizen’s empowerment and reliable information are crucial.
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