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Document 52016IR3170

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Towards a sustainable EU food policy that creates jobs and growth in Europe’s Regions and Cities

OJ C 272, 17.8.2017, p. 14–18 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, HR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

17.8.2017   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 272/14


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Towards a sustainable EU food policy that creates jobs and growth in Europe’s Regions and Cities

(2017/C 272/04)

Rapporteur:

Arno Kompatscher (IT/EPP), President of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano and Regional Councillor

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (CoR)

A common and long term vision in all relevant policy areas

1.

calls for a comprehensive, sustainable EU food policy which is democratically shaped, designed with a common and long-term vision, based on the latest scientific insights and in line with a multilevel governance approach that addresses food production and nutrition in a more comprehensive manner, promoting more sustainable production and consumption patterns, establishing a link across different policy areas, including, among others, food production, agriculture, environment, health, consumer policy, employment and rural development, and creating jobs and growth in Europe’s Regions and Cities; calls on the European Parliament and the Commission to launch together with the CoR a joint pilot project to facilitate the development of a sustainable EU food policy;

2.

highlights the need to find a balance between keeping the necessary flexibilities to avoid a ‘one-size fits all approach’ to food policy and to avoid its nationalisation. Greater regulatory coherence will help to ensure safety of consumers, an effective functioning of the internal market and the principle of subsidiarity being respected;

3.

stresses the importance of the vertical integration of food policies based on sustainability criteria to ensure consistency at local, national, regional and international level. It is well-known that food systems and related issues (environmental, social, and economic) have a specific and local dimension. So there is a key role that cities and regions can play in addressing the challenges of food systems, and this should be taken into account when designing a sustainable EU food policy;

4.

underlines the importance of establishing an overarching European vision and strategy for a secure, safe and sustainable food supply in terms of quality, affordability and quantity and based on sustainability criteria. Such an EU food policy should be based on a comprehensive approach, recognising the global nature of food supply chains, including farming, food processing, environment and health. The Commission should ensure that all relevant EU legislation and financial incentives are consistent with this vision and strategy;

5.

reiterates the call for an EU food policy that promotes sustainable modes of production for European agriculture, working towards the development of cross-sectoral synergies for food and the environment, including agricultural and fisheries policy, climate and energy policy, regional policy and research policy (1);

6.

draws attention to the fact that ecosystem values are not properly accounted for in decisions concerning natural resources. Environmental costs are currently externalised in food production, leading to a situation where food produced in a more sustainable manner seems to be more expensive, mainly due to higher manufacturing costs; instead, the concept of ecosystem services offers an important opportunity for developing a policy framework to underpin the sensible use of biodiversity and other natural resources. Currently, costs associated with diet-related illness, and damage to water, soil, wildlife and climate, are regarded as externalities. As such, these costs are not accounted for in the final price of foods, regardless of the fact that they are paid for indirectly (and often unconsciously) by the whole of society. Within this context, the European Commission should promote the implementation of measures that allow the real price of food to be reflected, in order to stimulate a sustainable economy;

7.

reiterates the need to reinforce the links between different sectors related to food, such as energy, forestry, marine resources, water, waste, agriculture, climate change, science and research and land use aspects, as all of them play a crucial part in the development of sustainable growth (2). This approach should take into account the EU Circular Economy and other international frameworks alike where opportunities for innovation can be maximised;

8.

underlines the importance of specific territories within the EU for the preservation and further development of sustainable food systems, such as mountain regions with their long tradition of food production in a challenging natural environment;

9.

stresses the importance of further revising the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to incentivise not only farmers, but also food manufacturers to produce sustainably, i.e. by guaranteeing consistent implementation of the EU’s cross compliance mechanism that sets income support for producers that follow environmental and animal welfare standards;

10.

believes that, as part of the development of a more comprehensive food policy based on sustainability criteria, it is important to include the current renewable energy policy. In this respect, it is important to develop measures that encourage the production of those bio-fuels that do not compete with food crops, and, at the same time, discourage in the long term and in a predictable way for companies and workers the production of unsustainable first generation bio-fuels that are made from food-grade feed-stocks, such as vegetable oils;

11.

in order to sustain the EU’s growth, recommends developing free-trade agreements with third countries and other regions in the world that are consistent with domestic agro-ecological production in the EU and, thus, highly focused on environmental and sustainability aspects. This measure would ensure that the application of strict requirements to the EU food chain would not lead to a mere relocation of food production;

12.

reiterates the call of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization for enhanced mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and resilience building within agricultural sectors, especially in regions facing recurrent disasters and where agriculture plays an important role;

A healthy ecosystem supporting agricultural productivity and resilience

13.

underlines the importance of healthy, living soil, which is key to ensuring food security and the preservation of biodiversity. In particular, steps to promote the diversification of cultivated species, extensive, integrated and organic agriculture and higher animal welfare standards should be considered as the flagships of a sustainable EU food policy. Through the achievement of such key targets, it will also be possible to help restore public confidence in the European project;

14.

underlines the need to stimulate and sustain, also financially, the development of small-scale farming systems, especially those located in vulnerable areas and on the periphery of cities. Small-scale farming system constitutes a simple and accessible tool for local authorities to use when dealing with many practical issues, including social inequality, environmental challenges and health problems. Moreover, such systems can provide peripheral areas of towns and cities with sustainable production of local, fresh and seasonally produced healthy foodstuffs, accessible also to low-income families. Small-scale farming systems have been recognized as a socially aware model that respects the environment, reduces packaging and food waste, limits CO2 emissions and supports sustainable production practices (3). In this respect, small farming systems, especially short food supply chains for agricultural products, have a positive effect on local economies and employment;

15.

points out that short supply chains are important for boosting the environmental sustainability of transport between places of consumption. As the distance grows, so does the negative impact in terms of pollution produced by modes of transport;

16.

reiterates the call for more sparing use of water, energy, fossil fuels, fertilisers and phytosanitary products in agricultural production systems (4);

17.

reiterates that the shortage of young people pursuing careers in farming is jeopardising the economic sustainability of rural areas. Supporting young farmers is a prerequisite for preserving agriculture across the EU and for keeping rural areas alive (5);

18.

points out that regional and local chains support a sustainable food policy that rewards specific quality, tradition and economic and cultural heritage. In particular, craft businesses in these chains are crucial for many local and regional communities and are drivers of development and success in foreign markets;

19.

reiterates the call to implement a ‘protein plan’ at European level to support the production in Europe of protein and legume crops in order to reduce dependency on imported soy feedstock, in order to ensure protein autonomy for European livestock farmers, reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers and improve soil fertility (6);

20.

underlines the importance of pollinators and calls for measures to ensure the preservation of pollinating insects, such as reduced use of harmful pesticides and maintenance of crop diversity;

21.

calls on the European Commission to strength its support for animal welfare and environmentally-friendly farming and production methods, through the development of measures aimed at discouraging unnecessary manure production and transport emissions; at the same time, it is also important to encourage animal welfare-friendly systems through favourable public procurement and other relevant measures. Overall, there is a need to support better livestock management practices with reduced use of farm antibiotics, while taking animal welfare into account;

22.

considers organic farming as a tool to lock up more soil carbon, reduce water needs for irrigation and limit pollution by chemicals such as pesticides in the soil, air and water;

23.

promotes the development of alternative food networks, including farmers’ markets, local foods, organic products and Fair Trade goods. In particular, farmers’ markets are community-run markets that constitute an important social meeting point, where local producers offer healthy, high-quality food directly to consumers at fair prices and guarantee environmentally sustainable methods. In addition, they preserve the food culture of the local community and help protect biodiversity;

Access to heathy diets, especially for low-income families

24.

stresses the need to establish long term health programmes targeting obesity and food related diseases, by promoting the availability of, and accessibility to local, fresh and seasonal food. Such programmes can be especially effective if addressed to public institutions (such as schools and hospitals) and in those urban areas where obesity, the lack of rural markets and limited access to fresh food is a major concern. It is worth noting that such programmes offer a dual opportunity to encourage not only consumers to shift their behaviour towards nutritious and healthy diets, but also to steer consumers’ choices towards local, fresh and seasonal foods;

25.

recommends reducing the increase in obesity by promoting sustained information campaigns on a multilevel approach aimed at steering consumer behaviour towards more plant-based diets with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, reducing global meat, fat and sugar consumption, as well as towards the purchase of local/regional, fresh and seasonal foods produced using sustainable production methods. This action is of striking importance, especially in cities of Europe that are facing food insecurity. Food insecurity and obesity coexist in cities (double burden of malnutrition), as shown for example by the increasing number of people accessing food banks and social restaurants;

26.

welcomes those initiatives and environments that reduce unnecessary bureaucracy which hinders the recovery and redistribution of healthy foods to people in need;

Standardised definitions, methodologies and practical measures

27.

urges a definition of comprehensive terminology on sustainable food systems that includes agriculture food production, food processing and diets. This is the key to defining the ‘way forward’ for a common and holistic EU food policy; suitable instruments should be made available to ensure the effective implementation of policy measures;

28.

highlights the need for standardised methodology for collecting and reporting data on the environmental impact of food products, including food waste, to ensure data comparability across Member States and encourage environmental and social costs associated with food products or diets to be measured in economic terms;

29.

stresses the importance of promoting the exchange of good practice, of sharing data on the environmental impact of food, and providing information in a more transparent and accessible way for the whole food chain, including for consumers. The use of good practice and guidelines is key to promoting the adoption of appropriate sustainable measures by providing local administrations with sufficient information for implementing such programmes;

30.

stresses the need to improve the transparency of food labels, including comparable information about the impact of food on the environment. It should be recognised that current information on nutrient and calorie content on labels is not enough to address the complex relationship between food and health and that current labels are totally lacking in information about the impact of food products on the environment. Although most consumers know that their choices have a certain impact on the environment, no information is available on the product label to guide the customers’ preferences on sustainable choices. Believes that labelling needs to be clear and relevant, but it should not be overcomplicated or burdensome for food producers;

31.

calls on the Commission to step up vigilance and checks in the food sector in order to promote high quality food and combat unfair competition, thereby increasing product credibility and consumer confidence;

‘Green’ public procurement guidelines

32.

stresses that public procurement, accounting for around 14 % of GDP in the EU, offers a potentially strong lever for ensuring a more sustainable food supply (local and organic) through public sector catering contracts in school and hospital canteens. These examples can strengthen the rural-urban nexus expressed in the Habitat III New Urban Agenda (NUA);

33.

calls on the European Commission to clarify existing constraints within its public procurement rules in order to apply sustainability criteria. EU competition legislation prohibits territorial preferences (such as local foods) being specified in public purchasing contracts;

Multilevel governance approach linked to the sustainable EU food policy concept

34.

supports the creation of local food councils at local level for planning processes, comprising activities such as measures to connect producers and consumers, identify food deserts and zones for the location of new markets at regional level and above all ensure the public has a voice in policy making;

35.

draws the attention to the fact that strategic planning at regional and local level is crucial for reducing the overall environmental impact of the food system. From a production perspective, it is often the case that services (technical, credit, inputs, resources) are not available in the same way for producers in urban and peri-urban areas compared to those rural areas;

36.

stresses the need to confer on local and regional authorities the power to initiate and manage targeted environmental measures and allow them to introduce territorial contracts, signed jointly with farmers or their representatives (7);

37.

believes that a bottom-up policy on food sustainability should first and foremost be addressed through strong local development partnerships and local (regions’ and cities’) authorities (8), also in keeping with the New Urban Agenda (9);

38.

recommends supporting more cities’ initiatives like the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, adopted at the 2015 Expo in Milan on ‘Feeding the planet. Energy for Life’, for promoting fair, sustainable and resilient food systems.

Brussels, 22 March 2017.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Markku MARKKULA


(1)  Legislative proposals on the Reform of the Common agricultural policy and rural development policy post-2013 CDR 65/2012.

(2)  Resolution on Sustainable food CDR 3306/2015.

(3)  Resolution on Sustainable food CDR 3306/2015.

(4)  Own-initiative opinion on The future of the CAP after 2013, CDR 127/2010.

(5)  Own-initiative opinion on Supporting Young European Farmers, COR-2016-05034-00-00-AC-TRA.

(6)  Legislative proposals on the Reform of the Common agricultural policy and rural development policy post-2013 CDR 65/2012.

(7)  Legislative proposals on the Reform of the common agricultural policy and rural development policy post-2013 CDR 65/2012.

(8)  Outlook opinion on Local food systems, CDR 341/2010 REV.

(9)  NUA: Habitat III outcome document.


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