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Jaana Husu-Kallio: European food policy means climate, economy and the wellbeing of people and the environment

Publication date 4.12.2019 9.04

Finland, as holder of the Presidency of the Council of the EU, held a high-level meeting with the Commission this autumn during which the member states were able to share their views on sustainable food policy and support the Commission in the preparations. Food policy is closely linked to the Green Deal programme of the newly inaugurated Commission. Why is the EU now pursuing a common direction in food policy and what does a sustainable European food policy aim to achieve?

The Green Deal is a sustainable action and economic policy plan led by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. One of the five pillars of the plan is sustainable food policy at all stages of the food system – from field to fork. Von der Leyen has given her Vice-President Frans Timmermans a hundred days to prepare the Green Deal and the proposals on how to achieve it.

Food policy affects the environment and people’s wellbeing

The EU’s will to create a sustainable food policy is important not just for Europe but for the whole world: the EU is the world’s largest exporter and importer of food – a significantly larger player than its size might suggest – and its solutions also affect the environment and the wellbeing of people outside its borders. With its food policy, the EU can and should assume responsibility not just for its own population but also for advancing sustainable development beyond the borders of the continent.

The EU's food policy directly and indirectly affects the footprint that food production leaves on its environment – the social, economic and cultural effects of a coffee cup or banana consumed in Europe, for instance.

This is about more than just climate impacts; it is also about the effects on the wellbeing of people and animals, on water management and biodiversity. Every single one of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals is, in fact, linked to food. As the UN Association of Finland reminded us on World Hunger Day, more than 800 million people around the world are living in hunger, despite the fact that around one third of the food we produce is wasted.

Billions of people also suffer from nutrient deficiencies, while at the same time, overweight is causing serious health problems. According to the OECD, overweight reduces the EU’s GDP by 3.3 per cent, for example through lower productivity and employment rates. The current food system is still a long way away from sustainability.

Cooperation is the key to a sustainable European food policy

A necessary condition for a sustainable European food policy is open-minded cooperation between different sectors and industries. This is precisely a question of common strategic objectives, the consequences of which can be measured in euros and in lives. The objective of a sustainable food policy is to safeguard the profitability of primary production, the wellbeing of the environment and the health of people.

We also need to ensure competence and competitiveness in the food sector. Consumers must have access to high-quality food at competitive prices. Good food policy also ensures that people can eat their food safely, and that there will be enough food in cases when cooperation between states breaks down, outbreaks of animal diseases threaten the supply chain, or droughts lead to the loss of crops.

With this in mind, it’s high time to take an interest in food policy and engage in effective cooperation – across policy sectors.

Jaana Husu-Kallio, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry