International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food System (IPES-Food) in March this year began its three-year research and reflection process on the European Union’s (EU) food system issues. The intent was to collaborate with various food system stakeholders for the creation of a “Common Food Policy” for the EU by conducting five policy labs. The need for Common Food Policy arises as a result of the outcomes of productivist nature of European agriculture, as pointed out by Olivier De Schutter, IPES-Food co-chair and former United Nations Rapporteur on the Right to Food, in his address to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) from Geneva.
In an interview with Food Tank, Olivier De Schutter elaborated on the motive behind the Common Food Policy: “The agricultural policy supports production that has caused considerable environmental impacts, and has insufficiently integrated nutrition and health concerns. Smaller farms are disappearing rapidly, accelerating the depopulation of rural areas. The opportunity for synergies between these different policies is lost, as a result of them not being integrated.” This need for synergy among the sectoral policies is the first objective of this Common Food Policy.
Secondly, he acknowledged the numerous innovations and citizen-led organizations that are remolding the existing food systems, ensuring sustainable production, reconnecting local producers to consumers, and focusing on the shorter food chain, to name a few. “But the EU-level policies are poorly equipped to learn from these experiments, let alone to support them when they are promising. This too is a missed opportunity,” explained the co-chair.
Addressing these missed opportunities, the five policy labs will also focus on various aspects of the EU food systems and IPES-Food hopes to be accountable, transparent, and proactive in identifying and finding solutions to the related issues. The five policy labs are the agriculture-food-health nexus, alternative food systems in EU, the trade-development-environment nexus, access to healthy diets for low-income families in the EU, and governance reform and accountability in the EU.
The first policy lab in June 2016 saw the congregation of Members of the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee, and public servants from the European Commission; NGOs and representatives of social movements; and scientific experts. The agriculture-food-health nexus “explored how nutrition and health could be taken into account in the next reform of the CAP, and beyond the CAP, in agricultural policies more generally,” stated De Schutter. The existing policies have prioritized large scale production at the expense of diversified and balanced, affordable food. “We explored how this could be changed.”
The second policy lab on the food environment was conducted on December 7, focusing on the “tools that can be used to influence eating habits, and thus to encourage the shift to healthy and sustainable diets.” These tools include interventions on the production and packaging processes, restrictions on selling certain foods to certain consumers and places, taxations, and other interventions in order to have an effective change in consumption behavior.
De Schutter appreciated the ideas presented by the scientists at the end of the first policy lab, but also acknowledged the diverging views presented by the participants on the kind of solutions to apply. “My impression is, therefore, that all the parties learned from one another, in a spirit of mutual respect,” he said. “This is how, gradually, new alliances can emerge.” He also emphasized the necessity of policymakers and politicians’ participation and engagement in this research and reflection process because “no solution is worth exploring unless the political economy questions are addressed: who shall oppose a reform, on which grounds, how could such an opposition be overcome, what are the power relationships, etc.—and this is what the policymakers and politicians around the table could bring to the discussion.”
The final report will be published in 2018 containing the necessary interventions and solutions required to address the problems discussed in the five policy labs to help establish sustainable food systems. De Schutter stressed that this research, deliberation and citizen engagement process will not contain top-down reforms coming from scientists but will be “a process of co-construction, in which all participants agree to contribute to searching for solutions that can take into account various sensitivities and interests.”