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?
No, 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:
We 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.