The Good Food Good Farming (GFGF) movement, of which Slow Food is an active member, is launching a campaign to defend and promote the urgent need for Europe to transition towards sustainable food systems.
Next September, the European Commission will propose a Sustainable Food systems Law, which could be a game-changer for the future of European food and agriculture. Yet, this very important piece of legislation is under threat, as agrobusiness and conservative EU political leaders are trying to derail any EU attempts to transition towards sustainable food systems.
The Good Food Good Farming (GFGF) movement, of which Slow Food is an active member, is launching a campaign to defend and promote the urgent need for Europe to transition towards sustainable food systems. In this article, we invite you to follow the GFGF carrot’s journey and learn more about food systems.
What is a Food System?
Food systems encompass all activities related to the production, distribution, consumption and governance of our food — how your oranges and potatoes are grown and get from the field to your kitchen.
After harvest, these potatoes and oranges are transported and eventually sold to individuals and public canteens, who cook and serve them. From farm to fork, these food items require the involvement of many different actors: food producers, retailers, and consumers but also large-scale distributors and agrochemical companies.
All these food interactions do not happen randomly: they are shaped by political decision-makers and influenced by culture.
What’s the Problem?
At production level, our food system is based on intensive industrialisation, and relies on the heavy use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilisers and monocultures which threaten human health and biodiversity. How? By depleting soils, polluting water and putting wildlife in peril, thus endangering the entire ecological system upon which food production depends. What’s more, profits generated by industrial agriculture fall in the hands of few transnational corporations, forcing local farming communities into poorly paid labour.
At market level, the food industry prioritises profit over social and environmental concerns. For example, marketing strategies like “buy 2-for-1” deals and limited time offers encourage over-purchasing and waste. Additionally, aesthetic market standards for food products are unnecessarily high, resulting in perfectly fine food being rejected or discarded by supermarkets.
Citizens Pay the High Price
Every fifth person in Europe cannot afford a healthy, nourishing meal on a regular basis, because while industrial food is often the most affordable and accessible in shops and canteens, it also has very low nutritional value. As a result, an increasing number of people have unhealthy diets that lead to health risks such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Meanwhile, European food policies like the Common Agricultural Policy heavily subsidize large-scale industrial farming that supplies cheap animal proteins at the cost of public health, animal welfare and the climate. And this does not even solve the problem of world hunger.
Despite the fact that the world produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, hunger and malnutrition are indeed on the rise (3.1 billion people worldwide). One of the main reasons is that our current system favours overproduction while failing to achieve a fair distribution of food.
Last but not least, food prices are currently on the rise but farmers’ incomes are not.
Don’t Believe Eveything They Say
Multinational agro-industry companies want us to believe that the industrial farming model is the only one capable of feeding the world. But what they don’t say, is that they need it to stay afloat to keep securing profits from the sale of engineered seeds (ever heard of GMOs?), synthetic pesticides and highly processed food.
And they do not shy away from using any means possible, even if it means covering up the destructive impact of industrial farming on human health and the environment.
If you want us to give you a demo, check out our “Mythbuster on New GMOs” in which we look at the most frequent claims made by the biotechnology and seed industry to promote new GMOs and their deregulation.
What is the Way Forward?
The way forward is two-fold: change must happen at policy level and at food system-level.
Let’s start with the policy angle. Food systems are highly connected and increasingly global. They encompass a wide variety of actors throughout the whole food chain, while connecting with many other related areas: economics, trade, public health, environment, community development, nutrition etc. And yet, policy keep being made in siloes, leading to many incoherences and contradicting regulations. This is why Slow Food has been calling for a Common EU Food Policy to ensure coherence and consistency between food, environmental, health, agricultural and trade policies, and set the direction of travel for good, clean and fair food systems.
And we need to develop a similar holistic approach to our understanding of the relationships between food, farming and people, with agroecology. Agroecology is a farming system based on ecological, social and political principles to feed communities while respecting the environment. It is also a social movement of people fighting for food sovereignty, the livelihoods of small-scale food producers, indigenous knowledge and the right to nutritious food for all. A switch to agroecology across Europe would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector by 40%, increase biodiversity and protect natural resources.
One efficient way for public authorities to promote agroecological principles is by improving public food procurement, which is the process by which public authorities purchase food for distribution for schools, hospitals, food banks or in cases of emergency food aid. Access to healthy diets could increase if public food procurement practices would favour local, seasonal, plant-based food, with public authorities setting fair food prices, enabling direct sales and using strategies such as accurate demand planning. This could also help smallscale farmers secure a fair income while reducing food waste.
Why Are We Talking About This Now?
As part of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission is expected to publish a proposal for a framework Law for Sustainable Food Systems in September 2023 (SFS Law). This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change our food system for the better.
Not only will it create legally binding obligations to help the transition towards sustainable food systems, but it will also address the multiple dimensions and challenges of our food system. If written correctly, the SFS Law could mainstream sustainability in all food-related policy areas such as health, environment, trade and agriculture, while addressing systemic issues like unequal access to healthy and affordable food, unsustainable agricultural practices, and concentration of power and wealth in the food industry. Pretty cool, right?