Sunday

26th Mar 2017

Opinion

EU needs a modern food policy

  • Consumers should be nudged into a more climate-smart and healthy diet (Photo: Alex O'Neal)

Agriculture is back on the European agenda.

Decisions are needed on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the EU budget.

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Last week agricultural ministers met in France to declare that the CAP should be more ambitious, although Brexit means a big net-contributor will leave. We agree and argue that the CAP should be broadened in scope to encompass the entire food chain.

There is little public support for the current level of subsidies for agriculture which benefit the rich and do not reach marginalised farmers. Agriculture is generally seen as damaging the environment and landscapes, while too little is done to improve animal welfare.

The food system of the future should be able to cope with the grand challenges of our society: global food and nutrition security and safety, climate change in relation to water and energy use, ecological impacts, a healthy diet for a lifelong healthy lifestyle, and inequality in farming and between the city and rural areas.

Diets have to become climate-smart

These challenges cannot only be solved by farmers, who are the weakest link in the food chain. The commitment and behavioural change of all the other players in the food chain is required, including the consumer who should be nudged into a more climate-smart and healthy diet.

Although retailers have become dominant, to the detriment of the input and food industries, we still do not pay the true cost of our food.

We need a public and political debate about the functions of the food chain and the willingness to support a transition towards sustainable modes of production.

Genetics

Solutions come from several major innovation areas, including genetics and digitalisation, that allow smart, energy and resource efficient production.

Agriculture and food chains will change dramatically in the years ahead as nutrition will become more personalized and agriculture more high tech, entering new urban spaces and factories.

At the same time the desire for local, artisanal agriculture grows in the middle classes, and it is yet unclear how this can be accommodated in the high tech food chains.

The debate about the future of the CAP should not be left to the agricultural community but be broadened; environmental and consumer NGOs must be involved on an equal footing with the industry and the farming community.

The new CAFP should govern the resilience of the whole food chain and stimulate the interaction between consumption and production, from farm to fork, from seed to meat, from grass to glass.

Louise O. Fresco is president of the executive board of Wageningen University in The Netherlands. Krijn J. Poppe is a scholar of economics at the university

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