Revue AE&S vol.1, n°2, 2

The challenges facing contemporary food systems: European policy and governance pathways to sustainable food consumption and production

 

David Barling

City University London, United Kingdom

 

 

 

    

 

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Résumé

La sécurité, la résilience et la durabilité de l'approvisionnement alimentaire sont récemment remontés dans l'agenda des politiques publiques. Pour un approvisionnement alimentaire durable, les décideurs doivent examiner une série de challenges structuraux et fondamentaux à long terme, tant dans le domaine de la demande et de la consommation, qu'à propos de la production et de la capacité environnementale. Un discours politique clé a émergé autour d'un cadre de production et consommation alimentaire durable (SCP) soulignant le besoin de rééquilibrer les parties offre et demande de l'équation.

 

En Europe, les initiatives de politique publique prises dans ce cadre SCP se sont focalisées sur des interventions légères, comme le conseil au consommateur sur les choix alimentaires plus durables. Ce faisant elles utilisent souvent des critères marchands existant dans le secteur privé et préservés dans des dispositifs et logos de certification alimentaire et agricole. La Commission européenne commence à examiner les bases scientifiques et méthodologiques de l'identification et de la mesure de l'alimentation durable en essayent de travailler avec l'industrie alimentaire pour définir le cadre méthodologique de l'analyse environnementale du cycle de vie et afin de promouvoir l'objectif politique d'une Europe utilisant plus efficacement les ressources naturelles.

 

Mots clés

Alimentation durable, production et consommation durable, gouvernance alimentaire, politique publique européenne.


Abstract

The security and resilience of the food supply and its sustainability has risen up the public policy agenda in recent years. Policy makers must address a series of longer-term structural and fundamental challenges to a sustainable food supply that are situated both in demand and consumption and in production and environmental capacity. A key policy discourse has emerged around the sustainable consumption and production (SCP) of food, linking theneed to rebalance the demand and the supply parts of the equation.

 

In Europe, the public policy initiatives within the SCP framework have focused upon softer interventions such as advising consumers of the more sustainable food choices, often using existing private sector market based criteria enshrined infood and agricultural certification schemes and logos.The European Commission is beginning to address the scientific and methodological basis for identifying and measuring sustainable food by attempting to work with the food industry in framing environmental life cycle assessment methodology and promoting the policy goal of a more natural resource efficient Europe.

 

Key words

Sustainable food; sustainable consumption production; food governance; EU public policy.


Introduction

The global food supply faces significant challenges in terms of meetingthe rising demand over the next few decades. The price rises for different food commodities and oil in 2007-8 delivered an external shock for policy makers tofocus increased attention on the sustainability of the food supply now and into the foreseeable future.Contemporary policy discourse in Europe is seeking to further identify and measure the connections between the sustainability of food consumption and production. The terms of this discourse, and the policy activities that it is framing, are constructinga more detailed pictureof the respective roles of all stages of food chains as well as the consumption and production ends in the use of natural resources and other environmental and social impacts. These policy debates areincorporating the actors and institutions and their interactions from the wider food system within which the food chains sit. There are overlapping and interrelated challenges, in terms of food demand and supply, that are being identified as structural factors or the "new fundamentals" (Barling et al., 2008; Ambler-Edwards et al., 2009; Foresight, 2011). These new fundamental challenges are spelled out in more detail below, and include:ecosystem loss and natural resource depletion of water, air, soil, and biodiversity, and the depletion of fossil fuel and phosphate reserves. The spectre of climate change provides an overarching framework for furtherdislocations of ecosystems, ecosystem resources and weather patterns in waysthat are continuing to unfold, and for the emerging mitigation and adaptation strategies. The fundamental challenges at the food consumption end are an increase in diet related ill health with its attendant economic costs in the developed world. In the developing world, diet related ill health is an unfortunate consequence of the nutrition transition to a westernised diet and is situated next to hunger and malnutrition.

 

Particular attention is paid in this paperto the European Union's emerging policy recognition and actions that are linking sustainable food consumption to its production. There are attempts to convey the environmental and social impacts of food products to the consuming public to help guide their purchasing and consumption choices, with the private sector deploying governance strategies along food chains to set standards for more environmentally benign production methods, often validated by certification schemes and accompanying logos and labels.However, the European Commission is stepping into this policy space with the 2020 strategy that includes a resource efficiency road map, and its drive to implement framework methodologies for measuring the environmental impacts of food and drink products.

 

Agronomy already fits into this picture of food system change as a key means of providing a more sustainable approach to the use of natural (and social) capital at the production end of the food chain through innovative and low impact growing approaches which manage better balanced resource use and provide mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change. From this activity, agronomists can also provide the data and strategies to enable more accurate deployment of environmental footprint methodologies for food and drink products, such as through life cycle assessment methodology. Finally, agronomy can contribute to strategies for providing the means for the diversity of produce needed for a more sustainable and healthy diet for Europe's populations.

   

Structural challenges facing the food system and costing the externalities

The nature of the fundamental and structural challenges facing contemporary and future policy makers can be aligned in terms of supply and demand to reflect the production to consumption link, however some elements can fit under either heading. Land use, for example, is both a demand and supply factor, as demand for good fertile land for food production is often in heavily populated coastal and estuarial areas and river valleys and plains where there are residential demands. Equally, land is a prerequisite for food production while competing with a range of other demands, not least other non-food crops such as the large-scale production of biofuels to meet the competing demands for new energy sources. Some of the key natural capital elements that engage agronomists are: the natural resource depletion of air quality, water quality and availability alongside aquifer pollution and depletion, and the erosion of soil and decline in its fertility. The depletion of biodiversity and ecosystems are key further challenges that have been exacerbated by some modern intensive farming techniques, but at the same time are pre-requisites for maintaining future food production.

 

Climate change provides an overriding structural challenge to production, both in terms of potential regional climatic shifts and so changes in production locations, and rising sea levels effecting not just major population settlements but also highly productive agricultural land alongside salination of estuarial fresh water rivers. More immediately, recent years have witnessed more variable and extreme weather patterns and so the potential for severe harvest loss around the globe. Agriculture and the food chain are major contributors of greenhouse gases and so to the ill effects of climate change. In the UK, for example, the estimation of the food sector's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is put at around 19% of the national total (Garnett, 2007). The approximation of food's contribution is that: agriculture contributes 38%, transport-related 16%, with around 10.5% each from food manufacture, household food activity and fertilizer manufacture. Retail, catering and packaging approximate at 5% each (Garnett, 2007). In terms of EU consumption it is estimated that the food sector contributes 31% of total GHG emissions (Tukker et al., 2006). Modern agriculture and the food supply chain and its distribution are dependent upon fossil fuel based energy, and in the case of the former declining amounts of easily extractable phosphate. The just in time ordering upon which food distribution and delivery increasingly depends to meet the demand side of the equation is also fossil fuel based bringing with it a new set of resilience and risk related problems (Ambler Edwards et al., 2009). Some sectors of the food chain are low paid, such as food service, and in wealthier economies highly dependent upon migrant labour at key stages of food harvest and packing raising further resilience issues in terms of labour availability. The UK's Global foresight on The Future of Food and Farming summarised the challenges as six fold: balancing future demand and supply sustainably; addressing the threat of future volatility; ending hunger; meeting a low emissions world; and maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world (Foresight, 2011).

 

The FAO has forecasted a world population peaking at around 9 billion in 2050, necessitating an increase in production by 70% from 2005-7 levels (FAO, 2009). Yet against this picture, we see a current world population of 7 billion with close to 1 billion people hungry and under nourished and another 1.6 million estimated as obese (FAO, 2010). These figures point to the inadequacy of the current food system to feed people correctly as there is enough food being produced currently to meet the world population's needs. The over consumption of wrongly balanced diets are prevalent in the developed world's populations, and are increasingly being imitated by growing urban and affluent populations in developing countries, reflecting a shift from more traditional culturally evolved diets to more western industrialised food diets, or what is termed the nutrition transition (Popkin, 2002). In these developing economies there is an increasing incidence of diet related non-communicable diseases side by side to extreme poverty and hunger. The demands for an increasingly high protein animal meat and dairy based high in saturated fats, puts further pressure on land use to raise the required animal stock and cereal and oil based animal feed.

 

Table 1: The fundamental challenges facing the food supply

Source: adapted from Barling et al., 2008.

 

Supply

Demand

Climate change

Fuel / oil / energy

Water

Soil

Biodiversity/ ecosystems support

 

Land use

Labour

Population (9bn 2050)

Urbanisation

Affluence + Nutrition transition

Healthcare costs

 

The environmental damage caused by contemporary food production and supply practices and the public health costs of diet related non-communicable diseases generate external public costs, or externalities, that are not reflected in, or internalized, in the price of food. The real costs if our current food supply can be given a value and priced; and, is an evolving area of work where new methodologies are being developed.

 

For example, the environmental externalities of a product have been quantified providing a truer cost of food production and transfer to price in the market place. There are problems with agreeing the value of some impacts, for example: the value of individual wildlife, and the relationship to the willingness of the public to pay these costs. As a result, attempts to assess the annual costs of pesticides in the USA undertaken in the early 1990s varied from $1.3 billion to $8 billion (Pretty, 1998). Work has been done on costing the environmental impacts of UK agriculture (Defra, 2002). One study estimated the costs by analyzing what is spent to deal with the externalities of production and reached a figure of £1.566 billion (Pretty et al., 2000). Another sought to estimate the depreciation of the stocks of natural capital associated with agriculture and the environmental services generated and then arrived at costs by matching values to evidence from willingness to pay studies (Hartridge & Pearce, 2001). This latter study came up with a total of £1.072 billion, but taking away the benefit value of carbon sinks raised the external costs to £1.432 (Defra, 2002). The environmental and ecosystem benefits that the farmed landscape can provide, both in terms of biodiversity support and habitats and maintenance of soil and water properties of the land, as well as landscape value and carbon sequestration (or carbon sinks) are illustrated in this work.

 

The costs of these diet-related externalities to national health care systems are beginning to be calculated and the evidence presented in policy debates. Diet related non-communicable diseases, notably coronary heart diseases, chronic type 2 diabetes, and some cancers are incurring rapidly rising costs to health care systems in the UK. This evidence is being collated in a variety of ways and the methodology is being improved continually. One area of calculation is to cost the effects of rapid growth in obesity, as the condition of obesity serves as a signal of both anindicator and a precursor of diet related diseases. In 2001, the National Audit Office estimated the cost of obesity to the English National Health Service to be £480m (€720m) per annum (National Audit Office, 2001). This cost was revised in 2004 to be £3.3-3.7 billion (€4.95-5.55 billion) for obesity alone, and a further £6.6-7.4 billion (€9.9-11.1 billion) for obesity plus overweight (House of Commons Health Select Committee, 2005).The yearly costs to the National Health Service of food related ill health have been estimated at £6 billion (€9 billion), that is 10% of morbidity and mortality (Rayner and Scarborough, 2005).

 

The role of the private sector and market based policy instruments for the sustainable consumption and production of food

Private sector actors play important roles in food policy and governance (Barling 2008; Clapp & Fuchs2009). The balance of food chain relationships has altered over the past two decades as the buyers have come to exert more control over the producing sectors of the food chain and the terms of trade for food products. Buyer led supply chains have lead to a relative decline in the trading power of the food producers in relation to the manufacturersin the first instance, and, in more recent decades, both producers and manufacturers to the retailers and large food service corporations(Barling et al., 2009: Burch & Lawrence, 2007). The rise of retail led standards and governance is a very discernible feature of contemporary food chain relations(Henson & Reardon, 2005; Fulponi, 2006; Clapp & Fuchs, 2009). The growth of private certification schemesis another feature providing a new realm tothe private governance of food standards andinter-firm trade along supply chains. The certified products meet retailer standards or bear logos signalling the process characteristics of the food product to buyers along the chain, be they the retailers or food service companies or the final consumers.

 

Certification schemes covering an increasing range of environmental, ethical and social dimensions around food products, and their ingredients have augmented the earlier explosion in the number of food safety assurance schemes that began in the late 1980s. Environmental schemes around natural resource conservation such as: sustainable fisheries or sustainable palm oil and soybean planting, or integrated farming methods (IFM) for crop production and biodiversity enhancement, are examples; as are ethical standards around animal welfare schemes. This newer generation of certification schemes point to an increasing range of sustainability criteria for food that have social credence and market identity. Non-governmental and civil society organisations engage in some of these newer certification schemes as they seek to implement their policy priorities, often around specific single issues such as sustainable fisheries or animal welfare or fair trade, often engaging industry in the implementation of the schemes.

 

These developments point to the interaction of public and private governance, and the respective interactions between the state, industry and civil society in moving the food system to more sustainable practices. State supports for agriculture have been redirected towards Green Box compliance under the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Agriculture, where supports must qualify as "non or minimally trade distorting". Consequently, European supports under the Common Agricultural Policy arecontingent upon the delivery of public goods including the protection of the agri-environment, biodiversity habitats and landscape conservation, and are buttressed by regulations such as the Framework Water Directiveto prompt farm management solutions in nitrate vulnerable zones. Equally, the use of market-based instruments has been viewed as a successful approach to enhance sustainable agricultural practice at farm level (Buller and Morris, 2004). Strategies to reduce pesticide use at the farm levelhave led to the introduction of IFM and integrated pest control techniques and grower protocols. In addition, these protocols have been certified for the market place through schemes with logos attached. These protocols include international and collaborative corporate led standards such as the European Retailer Good Agricultural Practice standards (EUREPGAP) " later renamed GLOBALGAP to signify its reach. The large European food manufacturers, in turn, have also set up collaborative compliance schemes for suppliers such as the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) platform created by Unilever, Danone and Nestle in 2002 (CIAA 2005).

 

At the national level, the farm certification scheme Linking the Environment and Farming (LEAF) was set up 1991 in the UK, and promoted by the some of the larger scale retailers. LEAF promotes and disseminates best practice through a network of demonstration farms and open farm visits for the public (LEAF, 2012). The desire of retailers to be part of LEAF means that farms participating in better sustainable agricultural practices across the farm are rewarded with contracts from these companies. The scheme faces along the food supply chain as well as outwardly facing the consumer. Asurvey of UK consumers' awareness of the main sustainable food certification schemes found thatjust 3%of the shoppers recognised the LEAF label(Which, 2010). Yet, for LEAF this may be a respectable score as long as the retail partners continue their support. The onus for success is not just on the consumer but also on the supply chain actors to do the right thing to achieve environmental improvements. The participating retailers are aware of their strategic role and responsibility in the food supply chain to promote more sustainable agriculture.A key challenge for policy makers is how to motivate consumers and citizens to make step changes towards sustainability in their behaviour (Sustainable Consumption Roundtable, 2006). The UK Sustainable Consumption Roundtable report identified the role of choice editing as important, with the retailers amongst the key choice editors or gatekeepers along food chains. In other words, retailers continually make choices about the type of goods that they offer to consumers in their stores. The role of choice editing takes the onus off the consumer as the main decision maker, one that they are not necessarily well equipped to undertake on sustainable food, and transfers more responsibility to the supply chain actors.

    

Sustainable food consumption and production: towards new metrics and policy guidance in Europe

The challenges of the new fundamentals have lead tostrategies for approaches to increasing food production to meet future projected demands while seeking more sustainable production methods, but have not fully addressed many of the natural resource depletion challenges or the consumption end of the picture.In the UK a major initiative led by the life sciences and food technology based research institutes, was the call for "sustainable intensification", that is the application of life sciences technology to increasing crop yields while using fewer natural and industrial produced inputs (Royal Society, 2009).The UK Government has adopted "sustainable intensification" as a key response to addressing the future challenges facing food and farming identified in the UK Foresight report. Again, the more complex consumption demands and governance factors shaping the direction of the food supply are either missing or appear only in passing in this strategy.

 

Sustainable consumption and production links have emerged as policy initiatives from some Western European governmental agencies and from the European Commission at the EU level (see Table 2). This policy activity has evolved, in part, from commitments made by governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, which gave a fresh impetus to policy actions and strategies in relation to sustainability. At national level, governmental or government sponsored bodies or agencies have utilised softer policy tools, often in the form of advice or recommendations aimed at the consuming public. A series of differentnational levelinitiatives have focused upon identifying best practices in order to aid consumers to more sustainable and environmentally friendly informed choices in their food purchase and consumption. The growth of private certification schemes signaling differing sustainability related characteristics for food products has led to their being adopted under these public agency endorsed consumer directed strategies. Hence, the German Council for Sustainable Development produces an annual shopping basket, including food items, addressing such schemes and labels (German Council for Sustainable Development, 2011). Similarly, the Netherlands' Sustainable Food policy strategy emphasized the role of consumer educationcampaigns in relation to sustainable food production practices and innovation (LNV, 2010).

 

The Swedish Food Administration provided a scientifically based guide for the most sustainable forms of key food groups for consumption. It recommended these guidelines to the EU Council for endorsement as official standards but the Polish Presidency refused on the grounds that they were anti-competitive under internal market rules (National Food Administration, 2009). The Swedish example presaged the development of initial recommendations for more sustainable diets, in the form of collating expert opinions, from advisory bodies to the Governments' of the UK and the Netherlands (Sustainable Development Commission, 2009;Health Council of the Netherlands, 2011). The considerations around sustainable diets not only make a firm link between consumption and production but also ask what forms of production and what food groups need to be given priority for a healthy population while lowering the impacts upon the environment.

 

Table 2: Sustainable food consumption and production " emerging policy advice in European Countries

 

Country

& Date

Government Agency or Department

Policy Document & Scope

UK 2006

Sustainable Development Commission  (SDC) & National Consumer Council set up the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable

 

Sustainable Consumption Roundtable report "I will if you will" " generic identification of challenges in moving to more sustainable consumption and identified the concept of "choice editing"

Germany

2008 onwards

 

German Council for Sustainable Development

 

Sustainable Shopping Basket: a guide to better shopping produced since 2008 and updated regularly. Includes food and lists labels and certification schemes including organic, fair trade, sustainable fisheries etc.

Netherlands

2009

 

 

LNV Ministry

Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality

 

Sustainable Food: Public Summary of Policy Document.

Policy outline for achieving Sustainable Food; emphasised the role of sustainable food production & consumer education campaigns

Sweden

2009

 

 

National Food Administration (& Swedish EPA) " notification to EU Council for adoption as official standards

The National Food Administration's Environmentally effective food choices: Proposal notified to the EU.Science based assessment by range of product groups e.g.meat, fish & shellfish, fruits and berries etc.

UK 2009

 

Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) report to Department Environment Food Rural Affairs (Defra)

Setting the Table: advice to Government on priority elements of sustainable diets

Recommendations based on literature review, stakeholder and expert opinion on a low impact (sustainable) healthy diet

 

Netherlands 2011

Health Council for Ministry Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation

 

Guidelines Healthy Diet: Ecological Perspective:

Review based on expert advice

 

In the case of the Swedish study different food groups were identified, such as: meat " beef, lamb, pork and chicken; fruits, berries and leguminous plants; potatoes, cereal products and rice; and, cooking fat. The production of these food groups was measured against a setof environmental impacts: reduced climate impacts; non-toxic environment; varied agricultural landscape; and rich diversity of plant and animal life. In the case of the latter two impacts, natural pasture grass fed livestock grazing for beef and lamb offered benefits, but not pork and chicken production. Also, in the cooking fat food category, the landscape and diversity benefits followed more clearly from rapeseed oil production as a break crop, and indirectly from butter from natural pasture fed cows, whereas olive oil production was less beneficial (National Food Administration, 2009). Some clear implications from the Netherlands and UK studies are that reduction in meat consumption will be a key change, and that mixed farming and natural pasture feeding of livestock and more seasonal and varied plant and fruit/berry production will contribute positively to more sustainable diets. Clearly, this has challenging implications for policy makers when considering state supports for agriculture (Barling, 2007). In addition, the evidence base underpinning these recommendations needs to be robust, all the more so because the recommendations may work against the interests of established economic actors in the food chain, and therefore encounter strong political opposition.

 

Life cycle assessment (LCA) of food products and their supply chains provides a method or a set of methodologies that can provide an evidence base to aid policy makers in decisions around the environmental impacts of particular food products and supply chains. Particular attention has been paid, to date, to energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in LCA assessments around food. For example, the energy use hotspots in supply chains are identified, such as the baking stage in bread production and so on. However, it is clear that the environmental impacts of agriculture and food chains are widespread. One consequence of this is that there is an ongoing debate around where to draw the boundaries for assessing the metrics around the environmental impact of a food product. The introduction of different criteria and boundaries for conducting an LCA can lead to very different results and implications. The popularity of the food miles concept has led to debates over the accuracy of the energy impacts of imported versus domestically produced food. For example, a New Zealand study found apples and lamb grown in the New Zealand and exported to the UK for sale to be more energy efficient than the equivalent UK domestically grown and reared produce (Saunders et al., 2006). The study failed to distinguish between UK lamb reared and fed on lowland grasslands (more energy intensive) versus hill fed lamb (less intensive) and the energy figures have been challenged (Williams et al., 2006).Likewise, the New Zealand study failed to allow for seasonality in the UK apple crop - where the greatest domestic energy use is from cold storage for consumption beyond the natural season. Here the evidence can show that at some times during the year transporting produce from other countries may have a lower environmental impact than refrigerating produce grown in the UK, but not at other times of the year (Garnett, 2007). There are other examples of comparing domestically produced food in the UK with imports sold in the UK, in energy terms. Tomatoes produced in UK hothouses use ten times the energy and emit nearly four times as much CO2, as the same quantity in produced in unheated poly tunnels in Spain and road freighted to the UK market. Conversely, UK tomatoes are often grown using fewer pesticides and closed irrigation systems to minimize the release of excess nutrients to the environment (AEA Technology, 2005). In short, studies making such comparisons need to be: spatially precise, adjusted for growing conditions, seasonality and inputs; and to factor in the variety of supply chain logistics, such as refrigeration and storage time and period between harvest and placement in the retail market, alongside mode and costs of transport (Edwards-Jones et al., 2008). In addition, a key component in the LCA along the food chain is the domestic consumer. For consumers, driving six and a half miles to a shop to buy food produces more carbon than air freighting a pack of green beans from Kenya to the UK (DfID, 2007).

 

LCA accounting can be extended to consider the social (and health) dimensions in addition to environmental aspects (McGregor and Vorley, 2006). For example, UK imports of fresh produce grown in sub Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) have been estimated to support over 700,000 workers and their dependents (Natural Resources Institute, 2006).Hence, the development of LCA metrics and the application of the methodology and the boundaries addressed are open to dispute. This has provided a rationale for policy makers in the European Commission to step in and establish frameworks and guidelines for the application LCA methodologies across the single European market.

 

The European Commission is developing a range of policy initiatives that address the sustainability impacts of food products within the sustainable consumption production framework (see Table 3).The EU's Sustainable Development Strategy highlights the challenge to "gradually change our current unsustainable consumption and production patterns and the non-integrated approach to policy-making" (Council of the European Union, 2006). Subsequently,the European Commission'sSustainable Consumption Production (SCP) and Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan's (2008) addressed action areas forenvironmental policies and industry as a whole (Commission of the European Communities, 2008). The Action Plan included some areas linked to food such as: greening public procurement, improving supply chains' environmental efficiencies, raising consumer awareness and extending the use of the EU's Eco label. In the case of the Ecolabel, the signs are that the methodologies for application of the label to food products are not considered to be robust enough at present for this to proceed any further (Sengstschmid et al., 2011).

 

A more explicit extension to food came with the setting up of the European Food Sustainable Consumption Production Roundtable at the instigation of FoodDrinkEurope (formerly CIAA), the European Food and Drink Manufacturers trade association, supported by other major European trade associations around the food supply chain. The trade associations collectively co-chair the SCP Food Roundtable in partnership with DG Environment from the Commission. The Roundtable's declared objectives were: "to facilitate agreement on uniform and scientifically reliable environmental assessment methodologies for food products.put an end to consumers seeing inconsistent environmental information on products(and) identify suitable means of voluntary communication to consumers" (CIAA, 2009). In addition, DG Environment is working with the European Commission's Joint Research Centre's (JRC) Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES) in leading the development of a harmonised methodology for the calculation of the environmental footprint of products (including carbon footprint) covering a wide range of products sectors, and encompassing agriculture and food products (DG Environment, 2011). The degree of harmonisation in the outcomes of these different parallel efforts remains to be seen, but the JRC is involved in both projects.

 

Table 3: Emerging policy developments around sustainable food in the European Commission 2008-12

Source: The Author

 

Policy initiative

Details

Sustainable Consumption-Production & Sustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan(2008)

 

Voluntary initiatives on environmental policy and industry " but little food focus

 

Suitability of the potential extension of the Ecolabel to foodproducts

 

Background report recommended against this on the basis of lack of clear and agreed methodologies etc. making extension unlikely

 

European Food Sustainable Consumption Production (SCP) Roundtable (2009-) co-chairs DG Environment & European Food & Feed Trade Associations. Based in FoodDrinkEurope)& supported by JRC

 

Facilitate agreement on environmental assessment methodologies for food products&environmental information on products via agreed voluntary communication to consumers

DG Environment & JRC (2011 -2012): Harmonised framework methodology for the calculation of the environmental footprint of products

 

Framework methodology for most main industrial sectors including agriculture and food to be finalised by late 2012

Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe(2011)part of the actions form Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (2010)

 

Long-term policy goals with milestones: e.g.

·         20% reduction in the food chain's resource inputs by 2020.

·         Develop a methodology for sustainability criteria for food commodities by 2014

 

 

 

In 2010, European Commissioner Barosso launched the Commission's broader Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that included the goal of moving to a more resource efficient Europe (European Commission, 2010). The follow up document detailing the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe included a series of key milestones to be achieved by 2020. The milestones included a commitment that "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". A step towards this goal is to "develop a methodology for sustainability criteria for food commodities (by 2014)", which it is anticipated will result in a Communication on Sustainable Food (European Commission, 2011). This process signals the further and more significant entry of DG Environment leading and co-ordinating the other Commission services into the debates and policy formulation around the SCP of food, and in steering what the key criteria for assessing sustainable food should be. To date, the key criteria for defining sustainable food have been left largely to private actors in the market place as outlined previously. The commitments made in the road map to a resource efficient Europe's and the embrace of food and agricultural systems, reflects official awareness and concern with the need to address the finiteness of natural resources and their decline.

Conclusions

The food system faces some real and long-term challenges to provide a food supply that is sustainable in environmental and social terms. The sustainability of the contemporary food supply is being questioned and the complexities of finding adequate policy solutions identified. Attempts to improve the sustainability of the food supply will need to address their solutions within the private as well as public governance realities of the food system. The challenges to the food system are increasingly being understood and considered as being beyond simply food production but involving all stages in the food chain up to and including consumption. . In turn, changing consumption patterns and habits are seen as a key driver for more sustainable production. To this end the move towards attracting consumers towards more sustainable food products has been led in the market place through innovative certification schemes and private sector governance mechanisms with the sustainability criteria of food products conveyed through the certification logos and labels. Public policy makers are articulating the sustainable consumption production approach, also. In the Western European states this is taking the form of softerpolicy interventions in the form of collating expert opinion for policy recommendations and promoting consumer advice on areas such as more sustainable food product choices and low impact diets. The development of a scientific base to justify such opinions is leading to the costing of environmental externalities and the rapid development of LCA methodologies. However, initial studies of food products have revealed tensions and differences around the framing and accuracy of the evidence and the boundaries for what should be included in the LCAs. The European Commission has recognized the challenges faced and the need for more consistency and evenness in the application of market based instruments within the single European market. As a result the Commissionisseeking to establish more clear ground rules for the framing of assessments of the environmental impacts of products, including food products. Industry is co-opted into this process through the established round table procedure.The most recent European Commission policy iteration of this move to assess the sustainability of food products comes under the banner of a Resource Efficient Europe, and points to the framing of the metrics around sustainable food as the major form of public policy intervention in the near future. To this end it can be argued that the European Commission's strategies are recognizing the challenges that the food system faces around natural resource constraints and the production-consumption context for resolving these challenges. Agronomists have an important role to play within the consumption " production policy frame. 


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