4 Reasons Why the EU Should Put Sustainable Food and Agriculture at the Top of their Political Agenda

29 Apr 2024

This article is part of our ongoing series developed for our “Feed the Change” campaign, delving into the core themes and recommendations as outlined in our new Manifesto for the EU elections 2024.

In the last months, decisions within EU politics have shown a disheartening disregard for environmental concerns and the long-term sustainability of our food and agriculture. Seized with electoral fever and pressured by powerful Big Agri lobbies, Brussels and national governments have been hastily backtracking on key EU environmental policy files, including those on the

The EU Farm to Fork Strategy (published in 2020), which is Europe’s flagship green plan to reshape how we farm and eat, is in danger, putting not only the planet and farmers’ livelihoods at risk, but also the future of EU’s food production and consumption. But European elections are coming (June 6-9) and they are our opportunity to vote for EU leaders who support sustainable farming, short supply chains, and access to healthy food for everyone. From agricultural subsidies and food labelling to pesticides and plastic packaging – the EU has enormous power over our food system, and they should use it right.

In this article, we give 4 reasons why the EU must prioritize sustainable food and agriculture and put them front and center of their political agenda.

Human Health

Food is a basic human need, yet millions across Europe still face food insecurity.  In 2020, 8.6% of the EU population and more than one in five people at risk of poverty (21.7%) were unable to afford a proper meal every second day. The current food inflation is likely to compound this situation. Meanwhile, poor diet has become a leading risk factor for ill health among Europeans, mainly affecting the most vulnerable social groups. Non-communicable diseases, for which unhealthy diets are a significant risk factor, account for 86% of mortality and 77% of the disease burden in the EU.

The food we eat profoundly impacts our health. However, current agricultural and industrial policies prioritize convenience and profitability over nutritional value and health outcomes, which has a costly impact on our society. By shifting towards more plant-based food systems and working on policies that create better food environments, the EU can promote healthier diets, reduce the prevalence of diet-related diseases, and improve public health. Instead of favoring ultra-processed products, the EU has the responsibility to facilitate access to fresh, seasonal foods to enhance dietary diversity and support overall well-being.


Read Slow Food’s Position Paper  “Our food, our health. Nourishing biodiversity to heal ourselves and the planet”


Biodiversity Restoration and Climate Resilience

Agriculture is both a contributor (11% of all greenhouse gases emitted in the EU) and a victim to climate change, with extreme weather events, shifting growing seasons, and declining crop yields already impacting European farmers. The EU expects its overall cereal production to be 4.3% below the 5-year average in the current season, mostly because of bad weather, and this is not the only sector impacted.

And as climate change increasingly affects agriculture, intensive farming exacerbates the problem. This method, characterized by large-scale monoculture farming, heavy use of chemical inputs like pesticides and fertilizers, has led to the destruction of natural habitats, soil erosion, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. In Europe, the number and variety of species on farmland – “farmland biodiversity” – has declined over the years (30 % of farmland birds and grassland butterflies have disappeared since 1990), and studies show insect populations are collapsing.

Transitioning to agroecology is crucial for EU biodiversity and climate resilience. Agroecological practices promote healthy soils, protect pollinators, conserve water resources, and enhance plant and animal diversity. Concrete policies like the Nature Restoration Law should be implemented at the EU level to ensure biodiversity protection is a priority in agricultural policy. Sustainable practices such as conservation agriculture and agroforestry can also sequester carbon dioxide, mitigate livestock emissions, and enhance soil carbon storage, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. It is imperative for the EU to take action now to safeguard natural resources for future generations.


Read Slow Food’s Position Paper “If Biodiversity is Alive, So is the Planet”

Listen to our podcast episode “Why Shall We All Be Climate Activists Right Now?”


Economic Viability and Rural Development

Agriculture is a vital sector of the EU economy, providing jobs and income for millions of people, particularly in rural areas. Yet in 2020, there were 9.1 million small farms in the EU, which is 5.3 million fewer than in 2005 (- 37%). This decline stems from various factors, including agricultural intensification, urbanization, and economic pressures. Europe does not need to produce more food, but it needs to have more farmers.

What’s more, agricultural subsidies (namely under the EU Common Agricultural Policy) often favor larger, more industrialized farms, further disadvantaging small scale sustainable food producers. As a result, many of them have been forced out of business or absorbed into larger agricultural enterprises. Small farms play a key role in the EU’s rural world, as they help protect landscape features and biodiversity, while maintaining lively rural and remote areas, and offering employment in regions with fewer opportunities, for instance by allowing the existence of local shops like bakeries, food markets and more. Preserving the small actors of the food chain is essential for Europe’s social fabric and cultural heritage.

The EU must reorient its agricultural policies towards supporting sustainable farming practices and empowering small-scale producers. By redirecting subsidies and investment towards agroecological approaches, policymakers can foster innovation, stimulate rural economies and social fabric, and ensure the long-term viability of the agricultural sector.


Listen to our podcast episode “Farmers Protests: What Are They Really About?”


Food Sovereignty and Social Justice

The EU food system fails to protect the livelihood of small-and-medium scale farmers, due to policies and subsidies favoring big agribusinesses, limited market access (due to the dominance of supermarket chains and big companies in the food supply chain), and bureaucratic barriers. The failure of our current food system has also been seen in the escalation of fuel, feed, and fertilizer costs, along with interruptions in the supply of crucial globally traded goods, which has driven up food prices and heightened global food insecurity.

But the EU has the power to change this status quo, by investing in EU food sovereignty, meaning by supporting the autonomy and agency of small-scale food producers and workers in the face of increasing corporate power over our food – from production to consumption.

Food sovereignty, a concept advocating for the rights of communities to control their own food systems, is inherently linked to social justice for farmers. By promoting local and traditional farming practices, food sovereignty empowers farmers to regain control over the way they produce food. Additionally, food sovereignty fosters community resilience by prioritizing the needs of local populations and promoting equitable access to nutritious food. In essence, by championing food sovereignty, the EU would not only support the autonomy of farmers but also strive for a more just and equitable food system for all.


Listen to our podcast episode “The Global Food Crisis Explained”


It is now time for EU institutions to show strong political will, and adopt an evidence-based, long-term vision for food policies, with a focus on enhancing prospects in farmer’s livelihoods, health and environmental protection, animal welfare and social equity.

If you want to help us push for these ideas during the EU election campaign, join our “Feed the Change” campaign! 

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