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Food policy has a strong influence on the development of rural and urban areas. The EU food manufacturing sector employs 4,25 million people; turns over EUR 1.098 billion; spends EUR 2,5 billion on research & development and has a surplus of EUR 25,2 billion on its trade in processed food. Despite the economic significance of food to the EU economy, there is currently no EU food policy as such. Instead, food systems are shaped by a variety of distinct policy frameworks, as highlighted above.

Recently, the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on ‘Civil society’s contribution to the development of a comprehensive food policy in the EU’ has been published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
The EESC reiterates its call for the development of a comprehensive food policy in the EU, whose objectives are:

  • Provide healthy diets from sustainable food systems, linking agriculture to nutrition and ecosystem services, and ensuring supply chains which safeguard public health for all sections of European society.
  • Ensure the effective implementation of the United Nations sustainable development goals as well as of the right to food and the other human rights.
  • Value the nutritional and cultural importance of food, as well as its social and environmental impact.
  • Promote food waste prevention and reduction and ensure fair prices for producers so that farming remains viable.
  • Accelerate the consumer shift towards sustainability so that the European agri-food sector is able to sell at quality levels that maintain its position as the preferred choice for the vast majority of consumers
  • Implement a new smart system on sustainable food labelling. Policies have focused on nutrition and other health claims, but the EESC notes rising concerns about the lack of consumer information on the environmental and social impact of food.

Other recommendations that are included in it are:

The establishment of a comprehensive framework bringing together EU food-related policies, the EESC proposes in the short/medium-term to create a cross-sectorial and interinstitutional task force, involving different Commission DGs and other EU institutions. This task force would be responsible for developing an Action Plan on Food Sustainability, with the aim of helping the EU implement food-related SDGs. The Action Plan should be developed through a participatory process involving stakeholders across the food supply chain, civil society and researchers. The EESC would suggest organising and developing a space for civil society to get involved and actively participate in this process.

In particular, the EESC recommends developing an EU sustainable food scoreboard, which would allow food systems challenges to be addressed through a multiyear approach, thereby promoting policy alignment at different levels of governance. The scoreboard would provide indicators and would thus encourage and monitor progress towards meeting targets set.

In the longer term, and depending on the task force’s conclusions, the EESC encourages the Commission to explore the feasibility of creating a dedicated DG for Food, which would provide a clear centre for EU responsibilities on all food-related policies and be the source of regulation, legislation and enforcement as appropriate. Such a structure could be mirrored in all EU Member States with dedicated ministries on food.

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Author: Dra. Isabel Gomez