4 minutes


Attempts to define an ideal food system may differ in scale, time and context. However, there is a broad scientific consensus on an alarming central understanding: the current system is not sustainable. Balancing food security and nutrition for all while ensuring the economic, social and environmental basis for future generations is an outcome difficult to achieve. It implies decreasing the burden on biodiversity, soils, water and air, reducing food loss and waste and promoting healthier and less resource-intensive diets, among other challenges.

It’s like a utopian challenge. But it’s much more than that: it’s a race against time the European Union is eager to win. Although the EU food system, through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), has been successful in achieving its past objectives, food production is still a resource-intensive activity that tends to cause the loss of biodiversity and contributes to climate change.

It is responsible for 21 to 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, access to safe and nutritious food is still problematic for parts of the population. Often related to unhealthy food offering, obesity and diabetes are major public health issues with a huge socioeconomic impact. Meanwhile, most farming and fishing communities struggle to earn a living.

The Jerónimo Martins Group is investing in the production of organic seedless grapes in the Alentejo region, southern Portugal. The first harvests are expected to take place in 2024.


As food has immense cultural importance and meaning, the transition to a sustainable food system is, at many levels, a social process. However, previous scientific advice on how to achieve a sustainable food system has focused more on natural systems than on social, economic, political and behavioural spheres. Completed in March 2020, the European Commission’s reflection paper “Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030” closes the gap in earlier work with a more holistic perspective. Drawn up by the EC’s seven Chief Scientific Advisors, the document addresses the question: What workable paths are there to deliver an inclusive, fair and timely transition to a sustainable EU food system?

However, on the other hand, a radical change in consumer behaviour or a legal decree could affect traditional rural landscapes, as well as cultural and social traditions. Among the recommendations for an integrated perspective, in the chapter dedicated to learning-focused policy approaches and governance structures, the paper also suggests some initiatives that can be considered as “pilot programmes”, like a national “fat tax” placed on fast food or local schemes to redistribute surplus food.

Binding policy measures, such as regulation and fiscal measures, tend to be the most effective in achieving change towards food sustainability. According to the authors, this could be done through fees or taxes, or even making non-essential and unhealthy foodstuffs more expensive at producer or supplier level.


(processed food and beverages) account for approximately
HALF of all consumer spending in the West

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of food produced for human consumption is LOST OR WASTED

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come from developing countries that will be particularly vulnerable to CLIMATE CHANGE

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on the planet by


is responsible for 21% – 37% of greenhouse gas emissions