A Sustainable Food System for the European Union

Food lies at the heart of our lives. It is vital for our survival, and links us to our natural and social environment in a unique way. But our food system is unsustainable. How can we ensure future food security without treating people unfairly or leaving them behind?

Understanding sustainability in the real world presents a great opportunity for learning. In April, SAPEA have released independent, authoritative research in the form of a report, exploring the most recent and respected evidence on Sustainable Food Systems for the European Union (EU). Instructed by the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, the research was carried out by researchers at institutions around Europe. The report represents a significant and timely contributions to a vision of a sustainable food system in the EU to date.

    SDGs          EU sustainable food system


      Around the world, billions of people need a sustainable food system for this planet, which will also provide security for tomorrow’s population. Few challenges to the world are as huge as this undertaking, and countless opportunities for change and development will be found on the journey to achieving this goal. 

      Pursuing the holy grail of sustainable food security requires knowledge to be acquired and shared across everyone working within the food system. Using the best research to date, to guide and inform us, we can go forwards knowing our journey started from solid foundations. 

      Knowing what will work in the future is hard to predict. If we don’t know what works, then it’s important to have ideas, processes and systems that allow iteration, review and support to ensure forwards movement, without fear of failing at any point.

      Key findings

      • Food systems have complex social, economic and ecological components, while radical transformation is needed to make them sustainable. The global demand for food will increase in the future. To meet this demand, it is not enough simply to increase productivity in a sustainable way.
      • We also need to change from linear mass consumption to a more circular economy — which will mean changing our norms, habits and routines. 
      • The evidence shows that this kind of behaviour change needs to happen collectively, not just individually. So we need joined-up governance at local, national and international levels.
      • Food systems also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This can be addressed by reducing waste or directing it back into the supply chain.
      • A mix of different measures will be most effective. The evidence shows that taxation is one of the most effective ways to modify behaviour. Accreditation and labelling schemes can also have an impact.
      • Meanwhile, reform of European agriculture and fisheries policies offer great opportunities to develop resilience and sustainability.
      • But there is not yet enough evidence to know for sure exactly what works in practice, so the steps we take should be carefully evaluated, and trade-offs anticipated.


      EU governments infographic           EU governments infographics

      SAPEA is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, part of the European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism. SAPEA brings together a panel of experts from institutions across Europe to collect and review the available evidence on a given subject, to create an evidence review which is independent, balanced and authoritative. Upon completion, the evidence review goes to the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, who make recommendations, which helps European Commissioners create policy.