Last week, I turned down the possibility to attend a training on “How to Deal with Lobbyists” (so glamorous) to instead learn about the sustainable food policy agenda in Europe – and I have to say, I have no regrets! The LiveWell for Life conference was really well organized, had interesting panellists and great speakers, and though it was more of a meta-discourse on what is needed to drive sustainable food policy forward, it gave a super interesting insight in where we stand, and what is needed for Europe to develop a FOOD policy.
Let me flick through my notes and give you the run-down…
“Western diets cannot be made universal – what we require is a contraction and convergence strategy, especially regarding our consumption of animal products” – Olivier de Schutter
“Our main problem is to reach the 805 million people that are still hungry. Our task is that these populations are targeted, both from the perspective of food system development and of economic opportunities” – FAO
Nestle’s stance is that the food industry’s main priority should be to continue to transform perishable agricultural produce into food products. Then, they could contribute to healthier food systems by improving their environmental and nutrition-related performance (by producing more resource-efficiently and reducing sodium and saturated fat content), offer transparency and information to consumers, and to help suppliers in developing nations through on-the-ground support by agronomists and the like.
Finally, you had the WWF advocating to go beyond production, and look at consumption as well – which in fact is the focus of the LiveWell for Life project. They stressed that the 3 most important crops – palm oil, sugar, and soybeans – are all products we could live without – and probably live healthier too. Their massive production is linked to global obesity costs of around 2 trillion pounds a year. This makes a clear business case to look into sustainability according to the WWF.
So, basically, you had two advocates for dietary change – in an event focused on dietary change – sandwiching the big international organizations that stressed especially the fact that we can bring food and economic opportunities to hungry people elsewhere, and an international corporation saying that they can help in that, and help their suppliers become better farmers in the process. What an interesting range of opinions…
- There is siloization in government agencies and international organizations between the environmental, health, and agricultural specialists. We need a platform to bring the different actors together and get talking about a radical rethinking of food systems (Emile Frison, Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation)
- Drivers of consumers’ food choices are first and foremost taste, price, habits and convenience. Sustainability comes last, and we couldn’t put sustainable products on the market because there was no willingness to pay the price premium. We need to put sustainability into the mind of the consumer (Agnes Martin, Danone)
- We have agricultural policies that decide what we eat. Instead, we need to have food ministries and food DGs, to turn things upside down. We cannot get the model right by tweaking, we require strong regulations that support sustainable choices. Voluntarism is not enough; we should regulate what we subsidize and what can be sold to consumers as food (Sirpa Pietikäinen, MEP)
- There is a fragmentation of economic, social and political approaches to food policy. We are missing political leadership, this is why there is policy inconsistency in Europe, and things going in opposite directions. We need leadership to try and drive our society in new direction (Roberto Bertollini, WHO)