25 October 2022

Food system transformation: it’s time to take the gloves off

For many years now, studies have shown positive correlation between higher income and good health – in other words, wealthier communities seem to have fewer health problems. This is clearly unjust. What’s more, with rising inequalities, increasing costs of food, and climate change impacting food systems, there is more evidence than ever that food and health must be firmly at the centre of just climate action.

It is, therefore, perhaps unsurprising that climate and food are very much at the fore of the EU policy agenda. The Farm to Fork strategy, presented by the European Commission in May 2020, represents a cornerstone of the European Green Deal. The strategy outlines paths towards a fair and sustainable food system, meaning one that ensures healthy and affordable food for all. Since its release, food-related policy action has accelerated, gaining prominence and taking centre stage at global events, such as the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) and the Nutrition for Growth Summit.

ICLEI Europe is taking a lead in this area, with two key initiatives: a petition and manifesto.

In September 2022, ICLEI Europe’s advocacy for just and sustainable food systems culminated in the launch of an Avaaz Community Petition demanding ‘Healthy school meals with food education for every child in every EU school’ – https://bit.ly/FoodPetition.

The petition was launched EU-wide, in cooperation with seven other organisations, all as part of the Buy Better Food campaign. It addresses Stella Kyriakides, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, as well as the EU Member States responsible for implementing the Farm to Fork strategy, at a time when the European Commission is, in fact, reviewing the EU school fruit, vegetables and milk scheme. It urges EU and national policy makers to guarantee sustainable school meals as part of the EU Farm to Fork strategy. Buy Better Food plans to get over 10,000 signatures on the petition, thereby making clear that sustainable and healthy food in schools is a priority for Europeans.

ICLEI Europe has also been key in the development of the “Farm to Fork Procurement Manifesto”, developed in the framework of the EU Food Policy Coalition (EUFPC). This manifesto calls for a minimum standard for public canteens across the EU as a contribution to implement the Farm to Fork strategy. It contains seven actionable propositions, each with a defined target, underlying procurement criteria, and guiding instructions on how to assess target achievement. The manifesto aims to inspire the European Commission, EU Member States and public authorities to leverage the incredible power of public procurement.

As Arno Kompatscher, president of the province of Bolzano-South Tyrol, notes: "The manifesto for the sustainability of public canteens, [aims] to really bring the regional dishes, the wholesome ones, the healthy ones also on the plates of canteens, whether school canteens, hospital canteens, etc. A sustainable food policy must start from the bottom, involving all players. It is one thing to say things and also make rules as a framework, and another to do things and implement them."

The manifesto speaks to politicians, providing them with expert opinions and guidance, while the petition provides the general public with a way to join the conversation and advocate directly to the European Commission.

ICLEI’s advocacy in this sphere was further amplified and advanced at #EURegionsWeek, which took place on 10-13 October 2022. As Peter Defranceschi, Head of ICLEI’s Food Cluster, explains: “It was an honor for ICLEI Europe to be selected as a partner at this year’s EU Regions Week! This allowed us to showcase the potential of schools and public canteens to be catalysts for sustainable food system transformation and to make the case for why healthy and sustainable school meals, combined with food education, are needed to trigger impactful, long-lasting improvements to our food system.”

It is clear that the movement for sustainable food systems has momentum. The COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, and climate crisis have made it as clear as ever that we must act now to address intertwined food and climate crises. Politicians, networks, researchers and leaders must use this momentum to enact change.

ICLEI Europe’s work not only seizes this momentum, but sets up long-lasting change that can continue well into the future. This extends to involvement in a number of EU-funded projects on school meals and food education. One such project, SchoolFood4Change, highlights the challenges in our current food system in the context of the urban environment, where 70% of the world’s food is consumed.

Food can play an integral role in a city’s sustainable development policy, especially if linked with other policy objectives. Learn more about ICLEI Europe’s activities on food, its food initiatives, and project involvement here.