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A Sustainable Food System For the EU (SAPEA Report)

A Sustainable Food System For the EU (SAPEA Report)

April 2020

Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) has published their new Evidence Review Report A sustainable food system for the European Union‘, detailing how the EU’s transition to a sustainable food system can happen in an inclusive, just and timely way. At the request of the Commisioners themselves, the report was produced by a multidisciplinary working group of leading scientists, nominated by academies across Europe, led by Professor Peter Jackson, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield. It provides an evidence base for the scientific opinion of the European Commission’s Chief Scientific Advisors, and in turn, has informed the Comission’s new ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy.

Based on social science evidence, the report unpicks the ‘complex system’ that surrounds food, and highlights the interconnected social, economic and ecological components at play. The experts outline the ‘integrated, interdisciplinary and inter-sectional’ response needed to facilitate this transition, adding that ‘business as usual is no longer an option.’

The expert group concluded that in response to continued growing global food demands, we must transition from linear production chains to a more circular food economy. This does not translate to simply increasing production, even via the development of ‘sustainable’ methods, but instead shifting to sustainable modes of consumption, changing dietary patterns and reducing food waste, with ‘reframing’ how we think of food as a crucial tool.

Furthermore, the report underlines the key role effective leadership can play, promoting strong coordination and inclusivity at international, national and local levels. At a European level, the group advises that reforming European agriculture and fisheries policies also offers opportunities to develop resilience and sustainability. In addition, whilst the research found taxation and legislation is an effective method of changing behaviour/habits at a governmental level, the significant role of local, regional actors and citizen-consumer led activities in transformational change is stressed throughout.

Professor Peter Jackson, Director of the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food and chair of the working group that produced the report, added:

” Food is an incredibly complex system, with social, economic and ecological components. Yet, it contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and plays a key role in driving the climate crisis. The food system is responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates the annual financial cost of wasted food to be €900 billion in economic costs and an additional €800 billion in social costs. That’s why ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option.

Our report doesn’t stop at highlighting the problems, which are now widely recognised. It also provides a range of evidence-based examples about how the transition to a sustainable food system can happen.”   

Having heard the preliminary findings during Professor Peter Jackson’s presentation at our White Rose Brussels event, ‘Sustainable Food: A Systems Approach,’ back in November 2019, we are thrilled to read the final report, which can be found here. You can also find our event report here, at which two other White Rose leading Agri-food researchers presented the agricultural and trade perspectives, as well as Nick Jacobs, Director of IPES-Food, who presented their report Towards a Common Food Policy,’ which is mentioned in the SAPEA report.

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