Creating a healthier food environment– next steps towards a ‘Common Food Policy’ vision for Europe

(09.12.2016)On Wednesday 7th December, policy-makers, scientists, civil society groups and food industry representatives came together in Brussels to share ideas on how to create a healthier food environment in Europe.

The round-table meeting, convened by IPES-Food co-chair Olivier De Schutter and Marc Tarabella MEP (S&D – BE), was the second in a series of six ‘Policy Labs’ that IPES-Food will convene from 2016-2018 in order to develop a 'Common Food Policy' vision for Europe.

Following on from Policy Lab 1 on the agriculture-food-health nexus (June 2016), participants at Policy Lab 2 focused on another key driver of diets: the various factors in the social and physical environment influencing the food choices made by consumers – in other words, the ‘food environment’ in Europe.

Participants discussed how advertising, food education, discounting practices, portion sizes and many other elements of the ‘food environment’ influence food purchasing and consumption habits, exchanging views on what is required to create healthier food environments in Europe.

Welcoming this latest step in the Common Food Policy process, Olivier De Schutter said: “Changing the food environment is a key leverage point for improving diets, but too often it is overlooked and all the blame is placed on the individual for making 'unhealthy choices'. We need to learn from what is already working and make healthy food environments the rule, not the exception.”

“Measures to promote healthy food environments need to be combined and aligned with a whole toolkit of measures affecting food systems – from the EU level to the local level, from trade policies to fiscal incentives. All of these tools must be focused on the same objectives: delivering healthy and sustainable food systems in Europe.”

Mr De Schutter gave further insights into the Common Food Policy process in an interview this week with Food Tank.

The findings of Policy Lab 1 and Policy Lab 2 will feed into a briefing note in early 2017 mapping out what tools and measures are needed in order to support a durable shift towards healthier diets in Europe, as the first installment of a ‘Common Food Policy’ vision.

Launching the Common Food Policy project in April 2016, IPES-Food members joined forces with top European scientists to call for joined-up food policies to be put in place in an open letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

This week’s meeting included members of various EU institutions, including members of various DGs of the European Commission (Agriculture, Health and Research & Innovation). The meeting was hosted at the Committee of the Regions, whose Commission for Natural Resources is currently developing an opinion on a ‘Sustainable EU food policy that creates jobs and growth in Europe’s Regions and Cities’ (Rapporteur: Arno Kompatscher; consultation open here).

Updates on IPES-Food’s ‘Common Food Policy’ process will be communicated via the IPES-Food newsletter. The themes that will be addressed in the coming months include ‘Alternative Food Systems’ (Policy Lab 3) and the ‘Trade-Development-Environment nexus’ (Policy Lab 4). Those wanting more information on the process or proposals for actions and collaborations are invited to contact the IPES-Food secretariat.