Europe’s Food Systems: Urgent Need for Reform to Tackle Unsustainability

by Ella

In a world where food transcends borders and languages, the sustainability of Europe’s food systems has come under intense scrutiny. Farmers, consumers, businesses, and scientists are increasingly calling for radical change to address the profound unsustainability of these systems, which impact both people and the planet.

Farmers Facing Unprecedented Challenges: European agriculture today is largely dominated by agri-food corporations, wielding significant market influence. This control allows them to dictate crucial decisions affecting farmers, from pesticide use policies to the prices farmers receive for their produce. This profit-driven model encourages speculative ‘land-grabbing,’ threatening rural heritage, cultural landscapes, and natural ecosystems. These practices jeopardize biodiversity, essential for food security, and disconnect people from the land. The resulting corporate influence is pushing farmers to the brink, with many being forced to abandon their livelihoods. The promise of dignified working conditions, fair returns for their produce, and autonomy over their land remains elusive for these struggling farmers.


Consumers’ Health at Risk: European public health is in peril largely due to poor nutrition, a leading cause of non-communicable diseases that account for 90% of all deaths. While many consumers are aware of the health and environmental hazards posed by today’s food systems, they often face formidable obstacles when trying to make healthier choices. Industry giants wield enormous influence over ‘food environments,’ shaping consumers’ decisions and disproportionately promoting unhealthy, unsustainable options. Meanwhile, healthier, more sustainable alternatives are often less accessible or less appealing. This power imbalance between consumers and corporate food giants has led to inflated food prices and strains on public healthcare, a situation referred to as ‘greedflation.’


Unsustainability: Bad for Business Too: European businesses, including smaller enterprises, are increasingly recognizing the dangers posed by unsustainable food systems. Long supply chains, vulnerable to geopolitical disruptions, threaten their competitiveness, confidence, and survival. The link between current food systems and climate and biodiversity crises is becoming impossible to ignore, and businesses are already experiencing the consequences of these global challenges.


Scientific Urgency for Change: Independent scientists from the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) have underscored the imperative for radical, system-wide change, declaring that ‘business as usual’ is no longer viable. SAM’s recent publications emphasize the need for holistic transformation to ensure environmental sustainability and social justice in Europe’s food systems. This shift requires addressing power imbalances and inadequate regulations favoring a concentration of control in the hands of a few. SAM’s recommendations also stress the need for sustainable food consumption, a responsibility that cannot rest solely on consumers.


The Role of Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) Law: The European Union has a pivotal opportunity to address these pressing issues through the Sustainable Food Systems (SFS) law, a crucial component of the Farm to Fork Strategy. However, despite mounting calls for sustainability, the law faced setbacks amid the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis. Still, the urgency of future-proofing and ensuring long-term food security demands immediate action, as inaction is unthinkable, according to the commission’s Stella Kyriakides.

Recognizing the widespread support for sustainable food systems, encompassing farmers, consumers, businesses, and scientists, the commission must swiftly deliver a comprehensive proposal to harmonize fragmented EU farming and food policies. This blueprint can strengthen the foundations of Europe’s food systems, placing farmers at the center of the transition and ensuring true accountability across food systems, thereby fostering environmental sustainability, social justice, and economic resilience. It is a unique opportunity to heed the science and align policy with the demands of a changing world.



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