The EU must reduce the environmental impact of its food system through more efficient and sustainable use of resources, says a report by the European Environmental Agency (EEA). This would include reducing Europe’s overseas land-use footprint and ensuring imports of sustainable livestock and aquaculture feed.
The EEA report, Food in a green light, was published on October 17 and it examines the challenges Europe faces in shifting to a sustainable food system and looks at current opportunities for change. The report states that “more efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, changes in production methods, food choices and diets, and reducing environmental risks by phasing out the use of harmful chemicals throughout the food chain” will be needed if the region is to meet the 2030 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Europe’s food system is a large and complex one, says the report. The food supply chain, including agriculture and fisheries production, processing and manufacturing, through to the food and drink industry, had a turnover of €3.9 trillion in 2013. All these activities within the EU have an environmental impact, but also beyond its borders due to imports of food and feed.
As an example, the report cites that in 2013 Europe had net imports of around 27 million metric tons of soybeans and soybean products for oil production and animal feed. This meant that Europe is dependent on overseas land for its own production. As such the land footprint of soybean imports for example was around 11 million hectares, of which 80 percent was from South America, where expanding cultivation, in Brazil and Argentina, has caused losses of habitat and biodiversity, while fodder production competes directly with Brazil’s well‑established bio-ethanol production sector, creating land use conflicts.
The report argues that meeting long-term sustainability goals will depend on decisions being made today and the report identifies how current EU policy processes, objectives and targets offer opportunities to change the food system and deliver better outcomes for producers, consumers and the environment. Among the key challenges, the report includes:
- Providing viable and just incomes for farmers, fishers and other workers involved in the food system.
- Ensuring safer food – by reducing the impacts on health from pollution related to food production. This includes the phasing out the use of harmful chemicals throughout the food chain.
- Promoting dietary shifts to consume lower quantities of meat, dairy products and eggs which would reduce environmental impacts as well as reduce health risks.
- Dealing with food waste at different stages along the food supply chain.
- Reducing Europe’s overseas land-use footprint, ensuring imports of sustainable livestock and aquaculture feed.
- Reducing the negative effects of urbanization on land use, especially arable farmland.
Source: Food in a Green Light: A systems approach to sustainable food
Note: The European Environment Agency (EEA) is the agency of the European Union that provides independent information on the environment, thereby helping those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, as well as informing the general public.