‘Consumers shouldn’t be the only ones responsible for the shift to sustainable food consumption’

Published on: 
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
Last updated on 29-6-2023 by Marinka Vangenck

A group of top scientists from across Europe have advised the European Commission on how to transform European food consumption to become healthier and more sustainable. Sciensano researcher Stefanie Vandevijvere also contributed to the report, which was handed over to Commissioner M. Vestager.  

The main message of the report is that in order for Europe to achieve its health and sustainability goals, the way we produce, distribute and consume food must change, and this cannot be left entirely up to the consumer.

The advice, prepared by the scientific advisory body SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) addresses key policy areas, including pricing, availability, composition, and the social and digital environments that influence which foods people consume.  

Sciensano researcher and member of the working group, Stefanie Vandevijvere, said: “The EU mainly focused on providing consumers with more information through, for example, the mandatory labelling of nutritional values and certain ingredients on food products. However, people choose their food based on many factors. So informing alone is not enough. To make sustainable, healthy food an easy and affordable choice, policies must address the whole food environment. In other words, the pressure to choose healthy and sustainable food must be taken off consumers’ shoulders by systematically incorporating ‘healthy and sustainable’ as a preferred option anywhere where food is obtained, eaten, and discussed.”

Recommendations to promote healthy and sustainable food choices

The advisors recommend a range of evidence-based measures for promoting healthy and sustainable food choices, including:

  • Pricing: There is clear evidence that direct measures are effective. This includes sugar taxes, meat taxes, and pricing products according to their environmental impacts, as well as lower taxes on healthy and sustainable alternatives.  
  • Availability and visibility: Healthy and sustainable food options are more frequently chosen if they are displayed in prominent places. The advertising of foods which are unhealthy or unsustainable if consumed regularly should be restricted. Voluntary codes of conduct in this area have not been effective. 
  • Composition: Reducing unhealthy fat, sugar and salt content, and adding more plant-based alternatives, can be useful, but only if these measures are mandatory and comprehensive. Voluntary agreements in the past have had limited effect. 

The scientists hope that their scientific advice and evidence will form the basis for policy actions at both European and national levels.

Visit the website of SAPEA for more information on the report ‘Towards Sustainable Food Consumption’.

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