Their report, Europe and Food – Ensuring environmental, health and social benefits for the Global Transition says that without concerted action, the EU and UK may miss their own goals related to the food system.
With the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU aims to be the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050, but it looks as though these targets will be missed.
Raising grave concerns about the growing environmental and dietary health crises affecting the Europe and the UK, it says at the heart of this issue is the steady “Westernisation” of eating habits which are defined as a high consumption of protein, saturated fat, refined grains, sugar, alcohol and salt.
European countries are consuming 50 to 100 per cent more sodium than what is physiologically necessary. The main source of this comes from manufactured foods, which are responsible for 75 to 80 per cent of European sodium intake.
In the EU, 59 per cent of adults, and 28 per cent of children and adolescents are overweight, with the rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) rising exponentially.
“Agriculture in Europe is a main contributor to water scarcity and soil erosion”
According to World Health Organization calculations, in order to achieve healthier diets by 2050, Europeans will have to make substantial shifts to their eating habits. This will require a 50 per cent reduction in red meats and sugar, combined with a 100 per cent increase in the consumption of nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
The report says that agriculture is responsible for about 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, while this calculated elsewhere at the far higher rate of 33 per cent. The Barilla Foundation adds that agriculture in Europe is a main contributor to water scarcity, and soil erosion.
It recommends regenerative and agroecological techniques and engaging young farmers.
Moreover, the food system is wasteful. In Europe, over 20 per cent of the food produced is wasted, either at the production or at the consumption stage, with an average 60 kg of food being wasted by each European citizen per year.
The report says the EU is at a tipping point in reversing current nutritional trends, reducing the pressure on the environment and ensuring a fair transition of food systems
Researcher Kataryzna Dembska, who co-wrote the report, told Quota, “There is no way of turning away from these problems. It’s no longer about the survival of natural resources of the planet, but our survival as a human species.”
“Labelling must be integrated into a much wider strategy promoting healthy and sustainable diets”
She called for food subsidies for fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes and social protection programmes [ensuring citizens can afford to buy healthy food] to address the problems.
“We need to make sure good food is accessible to everyone and especially to vulnerable segments of the population,” she says.
“If you want to be environmentally friendly, you simply have to choose a healthy diet.
“Labelling could highlight the carbon and water footprint of food, along with information on salt, sugar and fat content.
“However, it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that as long as I print out information on a label, I have sufficiently informed my consumers. A single measure, such as labelling is not effective in generating large scale change. Labelling must be integrated into a much wider strategy promoting healthy and sustainable diets on a national level.
“Citizens have a hard time finding reliable information on dietary and environmental impact”
“We need to create food environments where the sustainable and healthy choice is the most obvious and maybe the cheapest option.
“From the school to the workplace, the canteen I eat in at work, where I shop for food – these are all places where I can be nudged into making healthier and more sustainable choices.
“Labelling is one component of this process. In order for this to be effective, I have to be primed for it through an integrated education and information strategy – I have to have the knowledge to understand carbon and water footprint labelling, and why these issues are important.
“We have to avoid creating confusion, like you see with the poorly understood difference between best before and use by dates, which has contributed to food loss and waste.
“We need collective responsibility. We have only 10 years to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but we also have the knowledge and the resources to address these problems.
“We must remember that education should not be aimed only at the younger generations, but to all citizens.
“A diet that is healthy for people is also healthy for the planet”
“Many countries in Europe already have mandatory nutritional education in their school curricula. However, only Germany and Sweden incorporate the environmental impact of food into these programmes. More can be done.
“Consumers have a hard time finding reliable information on dietary and environmental impact of the food they eat.
“At the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, we have been working on the Double Health and Climate pyramid. This is a model that shows on one side a food pyramid for health, and an inversed climate pyramid showing the impact of food groups on the environment in terms of carbon footprint.
“What we generally see is that a healthy diet should be mainly plant-based, with moderate quantities of fish, poultry, cheese, and an occasional consumption of red and processed meat, which tend to be have a higher environmental impact.
“When considering sustainable diets, we notice that a diet that is healthy for people is also healthy for the planet. It’s all a matter of how much and how often you eat these food groups.
“Food retailers and manufacturers are key players in the transition toward a healthier, more sustainable food system.
“However, businesses acting alone cannot be expected to resolve such big challenges.
“Redirecting subsidies to fruits, vegetables, whole grains creates a business opportunity”
“Collaboration with institutions, policymakers, and government, therefore, should provide opportunities for businesses to benefit from putting products that promote a healthy and sustainable diet on the market.
“In our report, we have highlighted how the consumption of sodium is very high across all 28 countries analysed. And salt, usually in the diet, derives from the consumption of ready to eat food from foods that already contain salt, such as breads and canned foods.
“Reducing salt is one of the most important strategies to promote health and reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease by reducing high blood pressure.
“So businesses definitely have to take a step forward in lowering the sodium in the foods they put on the market. Robust policy frameworks supporting this action have been effective in promoting this, but more can be done.
“This could be achieved by redirecting subsidies to fruits, vegetables and whole grains and legumes, rather than meat production – creating a business opportunity, but also supported by incentives and funds, for example, on the European level.
“It is important now not to lose the momentum that has been generated over the last year and see where this strategy takes us into achieving the greater health and climate goals.”