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More than half of people in OECD countries were overweight or obese in 2013. And there’s a worrying trend towards the heavier end of the scales, with obesity prevalence growing by a hefty 40% over the past 10 years in a number of EU countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France and the Czech Republic. On top of this, studies suggest that 90 million tonnes of food are being wasted annually in Europe, whilst food accounts for 29% of all consumption-derived greenhouse gas emissions. Given the enormous environmental and public health impact of our dinner tables, what can be done to make food consumption and production more efficient and sustainable?

Debating Europe – in partnership with LiveWell for LIFE – is currently looking at sustainable consumption, including how eating habits can have an impact on health, food security and the environment. This week we’ll be finishing the series by taking a look at whether food sustainability is high enough on the political agenda, and asking what individuals can do to help promote better food.

We started with a comment from Ana Carla, who thinks that lobbying from the food industry keeps sustainability off the European Commission’s agenda and encourages it to take a more “hands off” approach.

We took this comment to Edward McMillan-Scott, a British MEP with the  Liberal Democrats and a Vice-President of the European Parliament. He strongly agreed with Ana Carla, and argued that the food lobby is a “menace to the public and it has disrupted and basically destroyed the Common Agricultural Policy in its own interests. It’s greedy, inefficient and it has to stop. We want the Common Agricultural Policy to become a Common Sustainable Food Policy.”

To get another perspective, we spoke to Christian Verschueren, the Director General of Eurocommerce, an association for retail, wholesale and international trade interests. How would he react?

We also spoke to Karl Falkenberg, Director General for Environment at the European Commission. As a person presumably on the receiving end of a fair amount of lobbying, how would he respond?

falkenbergNo, I disagree. The European Commission IS looking at the issue of sustainability at the European level. However, one of the key questions we always need to address is to what extent policy-making is useful at the European level and to what extent it should be done closer to citizens at national, regional or even local level. And for many of these issues there needs to be greater public awareness – and the Commission has supported awareness campaigns – but regulatory approaches are for most of these vital issues not the most appropriate way to deal with the question.

And, in fact, I have not been subject to any kind of industrial lobbying in order to reach the conclusions I’ve just made. I have been lobbied a lot more by NGOs that favour a more regulatory approach.

But what can we do as consumers about this issue? We had a comment sent in by Kenny, arguing that he wants healthier and more ethical food, but he doesn’t feel he can do anything about it as an individual:

I just want to eat proper food. I just want my food not to contain so many pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals in it. I just want animals to be treated the proper way and not as producing machines.

We took this comment to Edward McMillan-Scott for the  Liberal Democrats. He argued that the first thing to do is to change your own diet and eat sensibly, particularly because over-consumption of fats and processed meats is unhealthy.

We also asked for a reaction from Karl Falkenberg from the European Commission. He argued that the EU is doing its part, but consumers (and voters!) actually have a lot of power to change things:

falkenbergWe have just gone through defining a new Common Agricultural Policy that tries to strengthen greener production possibilities in the agricultural area, limiting pesticides, limiting fertiliser use, limiting also in meat production the ways in which industrial production has taken over in our markets.

What can an individual do? Well, we are all consumers. We can try to strengthen that part of the market that is produced more sustainably with more respect for animal welfare, for lower pesticide use and less chemical substances used. So, as a consumer, we have a way of influencing what is sold and therefore what will eventually be produced. And we can obviously also work to influence policy-making at our national and at the European level by electing people who stand for those issues.

Finally, we spoke to Christian Verschueren, the Director General of Eurocommerce. As a representative of retailers, how would he react to Kenny’s comment?

Are YOU prepared to change your shopping list in order to eat healthier and more sustainably? Do you agree that food health and sustainability should be a priority for governments as well as citizens? Do you think the food industry is doing enough to encourage healthy and sustainable diets? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Kees Van Mansom

37 comments Post a commentComment

What do YOU think?

  1. Laszlo Nagy

    Pesticides and stuff were already well-regulated to not cause a health hazard. Everyone likes fresh vegetables and quality meat, and even the McDonald’s offers quality in it’s own category. So unhealthy food consumption with milk-like drinks, mostly soy salamis, instant coffee with 4% coffee, is mostly a question of wealth.

    Regulations in this field are alright, and people do not like to be sick either. There is plenty of awareness-raising too from different actors of society, from fitness gurus to one’s own doctors.
    Might some answers lie within the social, civilisational, or psychological , or mass-psychological aspects of our lives? When researching as preparation for regulations, are social behavioral points considered?

  2. Jaume Roqueta

    Are you prepared to change the banking system in order to finance companyes more sustainably? I think no!.

  3. Jaume Roqueta

    or maybe to promote small companies and proximity…. a no! you only hear the big lobbies. Are you prepared to change our medical habits to take pills more sustainably?… Of course not!… big chemical companiesr rules European Union.

  4. catherine benning

    I already have changed to this some method of living years ago now. I eat and buy only from local shops, from only local produce, who sell organic unpolluted wares. What I cant buy directly I make myself, like bread in my breadmaker daily. I get my eggs from the couple down the road who have their own chickens and along with the eggs, they sell logs, they cut from their own woodland. Fish I do buy from the local fresh fish shop but they also swear organic and I believe them.

    I go to Dalesford twice a week with my own glass bottles to get their organic, fresh from the cow, milk as well. And it all tastes fabulous even though the supermarket paid stiffs try to tell you there is no difference. They are full of it. Not only does it taste different and better, you don’t get fat eating it either. As it is not filled with chemicals and hormones which are costing us all a fortune in health care. And believe it or not, it works out no more expensive, as there are no middle men. The farmer grows his food and sells it on local market day at a price we can afford. Others sell it at the end of their lane. I buy any cakes at the local French patisserie who also buys local ingredients, he is a bit more expensive but is worth it as none of it is stale when you get home, the way it invariably is from the supermarket. So, it is an ideal existence and I don’t have to fear what I have in my box.

  5. Robert Szabó

    This is critical. Good food results in good health. Good health means a lower burden on the state and greater energy and productivity.

  6. Fiona Craddock

    1) No, definitely not, 2) Create more incentives for organic farmers & organic shops, explore the possibilities of increased taxes on processed foods with significantly decreased taxes on fresh fruit & veg, have a Europe/national/city-wide veggie day, ensure restaurant offer at least one decent vegetarian main dish (no, not just a small salad, vegetarians are not anorexic rabbits), pass decrees forcing schools and hospitals to serve GOOD food, encourage community gardens (in schools and hospitals too), make vegetable growing part of the curriculum in primary schools, turn vacant lots into community gardens if abandoned for over a couple of years, have fruit trees in parks, … (I could just keep going) whatever suits best depending on the government, but there are plenty of options out there.

  7. Jaume Roqueta

    and you?…will you chang your shopping list in order to medical assist more sustainably… I mean generics? … will you change your shopping list in order to make our fueling more sustainably? will you change your shopping list in order to make our armys more sustainably? or the earth more picefully? come on… always asking to the people to do things… what do politicians do? nothing!… start by yourself befor asking the people to do something!.

  8. Fiona Craddock

    Err, if you’re talking about me Jaume, then yes, I have changed my lifestyle to live more sustainably, and keep changing whatever I can improve whenever I find better options. Not quite sure what you mean by changing my shopping list to assist you medically or to make armies more sustainable (?), but I cycle or use public transport, I buy organic when possible, never eat meat of fish because of the environmental cost, I don’t even buy many processed foods such as biscuits etc, baking my own instead, I grow my own cooking herbs and will start growing some veg on my terrace too.
    Politicians can make things change, but obviously they can/will not do anything without citizens asking, encouraging and pushing them to do so. And if you don’t think the people you voted for are doing anything, find someone else to vote for next time.

  9. Nando Aidos

    Do YOU think the food industry is doing enough to encourage healthy and sustainable diets? – Absolutely NOT! I believe they are doing NOTHING!
    And what should governments do? – Educate the little ones, educate the older ones, educate their parents, educate the whole of society. Divulge all the existing knowledge on health and nutrition. Charge all the obesity and eating habits related health costs to the food industry who keep selling trash food. Charge the supermarkets for selling trash food.

  10. Alex Bell

    People aren’t educated as to what a healthy and sustainable diet is. How do you want them to do it if they are uninformed? Today I educated people about goji berries that I grow, they didn’t know such a food existed.

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Alex Bell
      Some people are educated BUT they simply cannot afford to buy sustainably.

    • `

      Yes thank you for insulting every consumer out there.
      We are quite educated but “education” doesn’t equal MONEY to buy that food.

  11. Nando Aidos

    Are YOU prepared to change your shopping list in order to eat more sustainably? – I already did in my household a long time ago.

  12. Nando Aidos

    Do you agree that food health and sustainability should be a priority for governments as well as citizens? ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

  13. ironworker

    Are YOU prepared to change your shopping list in order to eat more sustainable?

    No, I’m not. This question should be asked in sub Saharan countries. Next question will be something like:
    “Are you prepared to sleep less hours ?”
    I adjust already what it was to adjust in diet terms. “Sustainability” is the least concern that I bear in mind when grocery shopping. I buy countryside small farms products and ignore imports. I guess that should be “sustainable” enough.

  14. Győző Dósa

    It’s not the task of the government or the food industry to decide what I eat. It is our choice.

  15. Long Top

    Alfredo González hôm nay khỏe không ^^. Tụi mình kết bạn để liên lạc thường xuyên ha Alfredo González

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Christiane Vermoortel
      For what reason do you want to discriminate against Israelis for?

  16. Anna Richert

    The UN Global Compact just launched a sustainability initiative for the food sector. I think it would be great if the retail sector could comply, then I could go in to the store with my kids, buy a healthy dinner, and be secure in the thought that what I buy does not av an excessive footprint. Here are the six recommendations:

    1.Support food and agricultural systems that optimise production and nutrition, and minimise wastage.
    2.Manage agriculture, livestock, fisheries and forests responsibly, to ensure that food systems intensify sustainably to meet growing global demand for food.
    3.Create, deliver and share value across the entire food and agriculture chain, from farmers to consumers.
    4.Respect the human rights of farmers, workers and consumers by improving livelihoods and providing equal opportunities.
    5.Practice good governance and accountability by respecting land and natural resource rights, avoiding corruption, and being transparent about the impact of business activities.
    6.Promote access to information, knowledge and skills for more sustainable food and agricultural systems, and invest in building capacities of smallholders and small-and-medium enterprises

  17. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    existen algumas regas en que la industria alimentar como tratar de alimentar o própio ciclo de inovación acelerada cultivar a sustentabilidad certificar a calidad consumiendo y mejor

  18. Florence Egal

    I am not sure how much more I will change my shopping list as I have become quite aware in recent years of my responsibility as consumer. I would however like to raise two issues:
    - that of food safety standards: I have never understood why we need a unique set of norms (international trade and local trade are in my view quite different matters). What I notice as consumer is that a lot of the local food we used to enjoy is no longer available and I guess some people therefore lost their jobs. I am presently in Canada and it seems some of the food-related social initiatives at community level are no longer allowed, not to mention indigenous people who have to abandon some of their traditional foods, with obvious implications on local diets… I am worried of the implications of the transatlantic treaty.
    - airlines: is anybody looking at the food and drinks that are being given/promoted, in particular but not only, by low-cost airlines?

  19. Panagiotis Varagiannis

    The shopping list (with all the foods from the markets) changes every 5 years…there is no comparison between current food-items with those before 50 years. So, if the food industry and the food policy conclude to a sustainable shopping list then it is easy to apply to it. Nutrition education, lower prices of the sustainable food and political will are the things that the people need more

  20. `

    “Are YOU prepared to change your shopping list in order to eat more sustainably?”

    Is the EU ready to impose living standards in eastern Europe that will ALLOW me to change my shopping list in order to eat more sustainable?
    As in not allow multinational corporations do as they please while ruining the local agriculture?

    Yeah…i thought so…

  21. Marina

    Industry has made big efforts to change the shopping list of consumers – by developing into science for instance the system of how and where and what food is displayed..and this science is not driven by the goal for sustainable diets and healthy eating. Consumers can not change easily the shopping list on their own. They need access to choices, they need campaigns and promotions. Schools are full with junk food branded basketball fields and marketing is overwhelming from the industries. there are no public campaigns for sustainable diet that can at least a bit balance this influence. Industries can change practices with incentives or disincentives – environmental fees on disposing of food, permits when there is a local produce stand. I feel today that I need so many efforts despite of all my kids see and hear to explain them and show them what to eat and feel like I have no many allies:)

  22. Lisa

    Certo! E poi non tutti in Europa vivono in grandi città e, anche, non tutti in Europa non hanno a disposizione campi da coltivare. Cosa utopistica: se ognuno coltivasse il proprio orto non ci sarebbe nemmeno bisogno di tanti imballaggi…e forse non si vedrebbero nemmeno così tanti rifiuti a bordo strada. E alcuni paesi non avrebbero problemi per la loro raccolta. L’educazione al rispetto della natura, dell’ambiente e delle altre persone è la prima cosa e fondamentale. Tutto il resto viene di conseguenza.

  23. Lucile

    Tout le monde selon moi aspire à manger bien et le plus sainement possible car il en va de la santé à long terme de notre organisme, de notre corps. Je serais tenter de de dire qu’une majorité de personnes seraient prêtes à changer leur liste de course car dans leur système de valeurs et donc de priorités elles ont mis le bien être de leur organisme au-dessus de tout. Se nourrir équivaut à débourser une certaine somme d’argent toutes les semaines et cela en vue d’assurer son être biologique. Mais voilà, entre l’aspiration à se nourrir sainement pour assurer son être biologique et la réalité il y a un fossé. En effet, les produits bio ou qu’on peut qualifier d’hauts de gamme coûtent très cher et donc n’est pas à la portée de la bourse de tout un chacun. De nos jours, manger bien est réservé à une certaine élite ou classe sociale. Par exemple, si une personne bénéficiant des minimas sociaux voulait se nourrir équitablement c’est-à-dire en favorisant le bio, les produits équitables ou éthique il ne survivrait que les deux premières semaines que compte un mois et les deux autres restantes il serait affamée, sans nourriture. Bien que ce soit très recommandé et que l’on nous martèle de manger le plus sainement possible cela n’est pas à la portée de tout un chacun l’on doit prendre en conséquence certaines réalités sociales. Et, est-ce qu’il ne serait pas tout bonnement souhaitable d’obliger tous les commerçants à vendre des produits n’ayant pas pour effet de ruiner la santé du monde? De nos jours la quantité prévaut sur la qualité, ne nous faudrait-il pas repriorisé la qualité et la rendre la plus accessible car l’État son est de nous protéger contre l’état nature donc dans la perspective de préservation de notre être biologique et bien la nourriture qui est produit et vendu en son sein devrait elle aussi nous éviter un état de nature déguisé, car l’obésité, le diabète, les problèmes cardiovasculaires concourent aux décès d’un grand nombres de personnes. Puis, il faudrait aussi repartager les richesses et cela de manière équitable mais avec le système économique en place cela est peine perdue car il repose sur un appauvrissement des uns qui fait la richesse des autres donc perdurer les inégalités est souhaitable pour que les pays industrialisés gardent leur suprématie.

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