09.09.21

Helping consumers make the healthy and sustainable food choice the easiest one

As the European Parliament is set to adopt its position on the EU Farm to Fork Strategy on 9th September, we have interviewed food expert Camille Perrin from the European umbrella organisation BEUC to take stock of what this EU plan has in store for consumers. How can we change the way we make, transform and buy food so our eating habits are healthier and more sustainable?

Cross-action

The EU Green Deal strategy proposed by the European Commission in December 2019 as one of the pillars of its mandate was truly a “game changer” compared with what had been done in the past at EU level, according to Camille Perrin. Therefore, when the European Commission proposed the Farm to Fork Strategy a year ago, it was a welcome change of direction from previous EU policies. The strategy sets an ambitious and comprehensive plan for reforming the way we produce, transform, distribute and consume food to make it healthier for people and the planet.

Helping consumers play their part thanks to Nutri-score

At Euroconsumers we believe that -together- consumers have the power and the critical mass to steer the market towards a greener path. Consumers and the organisations that represent them can be drivers of a more sustainable society. Not only do consumers have a key role in the overall food chain but consumers also want the green transition to take place

Consumers want to eat healthier and more sustainably

That being said, the ‘food environment’, including which food is on offer, at what price, and how it is advertised (especially towards children), makes it challenging for consumers to turn intentions into deeds, adds Camille Perrin.

With the support of Euroconsumers BEUC surveyed what European consumers see as barriers to eating healthier and more sustainably, as well as what they mean by sustainable. Generally, although two thirds of respondents are willing to eat sustainably, our survey found that price, lack of knowledge, unclear information, and a limited choice of sustainable options are what most consumers say prevent them from doing so. They are confused as regards the meaning of sustainability, which they see mostly as in relation with the environment rather than its social and economic aspects. “57% want sustainability information compulsory on food labels”, says Camille Perrin.

This is why improved food labelling has been one of our main battles at BEUC when approaching the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, along with measures to make food production greener and healthier by design.

Nutrition labelling on food packaging helps consumers make the right decisions

We were therefore happy to see the EU Farm to Fork Strategy include a proposal to make front-of-pack nutrition labelling harmonised and mandatory in order to enable consumers to make health-conscious food choices. “But why wait for the end of 2022 to put it on the table?” asks Camille Perrin.  

Six EU countries have already endorsed the Nutri-score labelling: Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Spain. Nutri-score is a colour-coded nutrition label that was created by independent experts. Of all the nutrition labels proposed, Nutri-score has proven to be the most efficient since it is the label that consumers understand best.  Recognising the public health benefits of Nutri-score, the World Health Organization is also calling for an EU-wide adoption of this label.

State of play of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy

Next steps for the EU Farm to Fork Strategy

At the moment the European Commission is carrying out impact assessments for the various policy initiatives announced as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy in line with what EU governments asked in October 2020. The European Parliament is due to adopt its position on the European Commission’s plan on 9 September in committee and 4 October in plenary in votes that have been postponed due to simultaneous negotiations on the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Together with a coalition of NGOs assembled, BEUC has proposed 10 priorities for the EU Farm to Fork

Towards an EU law on sustainable food systems

Going forward, beyond nutrition labelling, the European Commission plans to make a legislative proposal for sustainable food systems by 2023. While the content of it is still unclear, this initiative is “promising” says Camille Perrin. It echoes NGO calls for a common food policy that goes beyond the vision carried out by the Common Agricultural Policy that has been the main driver of food policy so far. The European Commission is set to unveil initial ideas about what’s coming up in a roadmap to be published by the end of this year.

Looking beyond the EU Farm to Fork

Trade policy reform needed to be fair to EU farmers and consumers

Trade policy should also contribute to the goal of making our food healthier, fairer and more sustainable. In January, France will take over the rotating Presidency of the EU Council. According to Camille Perrin, there are hopes that the French government will push at EU level the idea that what we impose on farmers in the EU should also be imposed on imports to the EU (clause miroir). For example, at the moment some pesticides that are banned in the EU are still allowed in imports as residue. This is not fair for EU farmers nor is it to consumers. 

Up next: Eco-score?

The idea of environmental labelling of food is also emerging at EU level following experiments in several European countries with the eco-score. The need for such labelling has also been expressed in consumer surveys. However, Camille Perrin warns that the methodology for creating a label on the environmental impact of food will be the hardest to decide on.