Less Incoherence, More Concrete Policies

08 May 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.

Throughout its history, the European Union (EU) has dealt with fragmented food policies, resulting in inconsistencies and challenges within our food systems. As we delve into our “Feed the Change” campaign, it becomes evident that a comprehensive and integrated policy approach is needed to address the impacts of food production and consumption on the planet and society. In this article, we will explore the concept of a “food systems approach,” its policy importance, and its consequential impact on people, allowing us to reconnect with our food and those who feed us.

Policy incoherence? Where?

To illustrate the need for a food systems approach, we would like to examine two examples of EU policies that have contradicted each other. The first example is the promotion of agricultural subsidies to increase food production while calling for sustainable farming practices to protect the environment. In fact, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) prioritizes increasing production and low prices, which favors intensive models of agriculture that are proven to be detrimental to climate and food biodiversity. A March 2024 report form the European Environmental Agency highlights that “Reducing pollution from agricultural and industrial activities should be a priority for protecting Europe’s ecosystems under climate change.”, adding the urgent need to reform the CAP and incentivize environmentally responsible.

Another example is the implementation of strict food safety regulations alongside cost-efficiency policies. The latter are often compromising the quality and safety of food products, as they push for excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods, animal proteins, fat, sugar, and salt, are key drivers of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

The many contradictions that exist create power imbalances that skew the food system towards a profit-driven model with insufficient regard for the health, well-being and dignity of citizens and the workers employed in agriculture, let alone the animals involved, highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive and integrated approach to EU food policies.

What is a "food systems approach"?

A food systems approach recognizes that food production, distribution, consumption, and waste are interconnected and influence each other. It acknowledges the complexity of the food system and involves all stakeholders, including farmers, producers, retailers, cooks, consumers, and policymakers. By considering the entire food system, policymakers can ensure policy consistency* between different sectoral food related policies, to develop policies that reconcile the multiple aspects of sustainability, that minimize trade-offs and that deliver “co-benefits” by tackling multiple goals simultaneously such as protecting biodiversity, ensuring fair incomes for farmers, and promoting healthy diets.

At a policy level, a food systems approach means higher cooperation amongst decision-makers in charge of policies that have a relation to food supply and value chains. This systemic approach should be reflected in the definitions, methodologies and indicators designed to monitor and measure progress towards food system sustainability.is crucial for addressing policy incoherence and closing gaps in key areas such as food safety, sustainability, and public health.

Implementing a food systems approach in the EU

Examples of systemic and transformative approaches include considering the impacts of dietary changes, organic farming and agroecology, social innovation and innovative supply chain solutions (e.g., direct sales, sustainable public and private procurement, etc.) in agricultural policies. The current fragmented approach has left significant gaps that must be filled to ensure the availability of nutritious food and promote sustainable practices.

A comprehensive food systems approach is not only important at a policy level but also highly relevant to individuals and can tackle major policy blind spots such as issues of food access, nutrition, poverty, and social exclusion Citizens deserve food policies that prioritize the production of healthy and nutritious food and ensure its availability in public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and government offices. By supporting the development of short supply chains and promoting local food systems, the EU can reduce the environmental costs of food production and support local economies. Additionally, clear and transparent food labeling and advertising empower consumers to make informed decisions, promoting sustainable food choices. Policies that make healthy diets more affordable and accessible to all socioeconomic groups are essential to address food insecurity and improve public health outcomes.

The EU institutions have recognized the need for this approach, as outlined in the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, by proposing the crafting of The Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) law. This long-awaited proposal (originally planned for 2023) must be the first legislative medium to concretely translate these cross-cutting commitments into EU law. It represents a promising move towards addressing these incoherences and Slow Food calls on the policymakers in the upcoming EU mandate to keep the ambitions that it promised.

Read our position paper to learn more about Slow Food’s recommendations for the SFS law.

Check out this article breaking down our vision of Good, Clean and Fair food systems.



* Policy consistency is a principle in EU law, as laid down by art. 13.1 TEU and Art. 7 TFEU.

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