European Commission fails to deliver on sustainable food commitment

By : Eating Better
Oct 6, 2014

Sue Dibb asks what has happened to the European Commission’s Sustainable Food Communication?

Eating Better is disappointed that the long awaited Communication on Sustainable Food from the European Commission remains unpublished, amid reports of political and industry lobbying to bury it. Now, 35 MEPs have written to the Commission requesting its publication. But with the appointment of a new Commission after European elections this summer, commitments to sustainable food hang in the balance.

A year ago Eating Better welcomed the European Commission’s commitment to assessing how best to lower the environmental impact of food production and consumption via a 'Communication on Sustainable Food'. The Commission’s Environment Directorate, then headed by Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik launched a major public consultation, which received 600 responses including from Eating Better, on how Europe can move towards sustainable food systems. The five themes of the consultation included promoting sustainable food consumption and reducing food waste. 

The Communication was intended as part of a much bigger initiative to improve ‘resource efficiency’. The Resource Efficient Europe initiative was established in 2010 by the Europe 2020 strategy to deliver smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. In 2011 the Commission’s Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe identified food as a key sector in advancing resource efficiency stating that our consumption patterns have global impacts “in particular related to the consumption of animal proteins”. It established the following milestone: “By 2020, incentives to healthier and more sustainable food production and consumption will be widespread and will have driven a 20% reduction in the food chain's resource inputs”. In particular it committed the Commission to produce by 2013 a Communication on sustainable food to “assess how best to limit waste throughout the food supply chain, and consider ways to lower the environmental impact of food production and consumption patterns”.

Although later than planned, but after extensive consultation, the Communication, now called "Building a Sustainable European Food System”, was ready to publish this spring according to Environment Commissioner Potocnik. This had required ‘sign off’ across the Commission and its Directorates, including health and agriculture. But at the eleventh hour it was reportedly blocked at the highest level, along with other environmental measures by outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and his Secretary-General of the EU Commission Catherine Day amid reports of political and industry lobbying. According to the ENDs report Mr Potočnik has previously spoken of the difficulty of getting environmental proposals through the Commission at a time when it is strongly focused on promoting economic growth.

This currently means the future of the Sustainable Food Communication is uncertain. With the appointment of a new Commission and new priorities under President Jean-Claude Juncker, food waste has reportedly been reassigned to DG Sanco (health & consumer affairs) and it’s unclear where responsibility for sustainable food sits – if at all.  MEPs have demanded reassurances that green policies are not being downgraded within the new Commission. 

Eating Better is working with NGO colleagues in Brussels to push for publication of the Communication and EU policies that support healthy and sustainable food systems, including the consumption of less and better meat. We will continue to stress the business opportunities and growing public interest in eating less and better meat.

In light of the crucial importance of food policy for human health, nutrition, food security, the environment and animal welfare, Compassion in World Farming (one of Eating Better’s founding organisations) has produced its own report and Executive Summary on what the Commission should be saying towards the role of livestock in the food system. The report has been sent to Commissioners, Commission officials and MEPs.

Meanwhile some better news from Europe. Incoming Health Commissioner-designate Vytenis Andriukaitis told MEPs last week: “We won’t drop food and safety standards for TTIP”. To learn more about food and the TransAltantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal, read our guest blog here.

Sue Dibb is coordinator of Eating Better



Eating Better News and Comment is a space to report and comment on relevant issues and activities.
We also invite guest contributors to contribute articles and opinions. Please contact us with suggestions and feedback.

The blog is written by members of the Eating Better team and external contributors.