Sustainable Food Systems - the Urgency for Change

10 Oct 2023
During its most recent gathering on October 5, the Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals addressed a pressing topic: the sustainability of food systems. The session featured two compelling presentations that addressed food system sustainability from the production to the consumption side. “We are expecting that the European Commission will still publish all four proposals of the long-overdue revision of the animal welfare legislation and the key deliverable of the Farm to Fork strategy, the Framework for a Sustainable EU Food System”, said Tilly Metz, the Chairwoman in her introduction.

Improved animal welfare is an important part of food sustainability. Improved animal welfare should go together with changes in food consumption patterns towards ‘less and better’ animal products and more plant-based diets. The Farm to Fork strategy makes it clear that we will not reach a healthy, sustainable food system without a dietary shift and the creation of food environments that make the healthy, sustainable choice easier. 

Philip Lymbery, Global CEO of Compassion in World Farming International and Visiting Professor at the University of Winchester's Centre for Animal Welfare, presented his book ‘Sixty Harvests Left’ with a powerful plea. He called upon the European Commission's Vice-President Šefčovič, to act ambitiously. His message was clear: ending factory farming is the first step to saving the future for our children. “We have the proposals, we have the solutions. Now let’s bring them to light”, Lymbery stated. 

Turning to his book,  Philip Lymbery made clear that food system change is inevitable. Our continued reliance on industrial animal agriculture is a mistake that undermines our health, wrecks the climate, and depletes the very basis of food - our soils. The United Nations warned that at business as usual we only have 60 harvests left. According to Lymbery, the solutions are at hand. We need to move towards regenerative farming, rethink protein and rewilding. Through a combination of nature-friendly regenerative farming and far fewer farmed animals, the world’s food system can become truly sustainable.

Eric Lambin, Member of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors of the European Commission and Professor of Geography and Sustainability Science at the Université catholique de Louvain and Stanford University, presented the science behind sustainable food consumption. He highlighted the significant environmental impact of dietary choices, noting that high meat consumption results in four times higher greenhouse gas emissions than a vegan diet. Lambin proposed a transformative solution: by substituting 50% of animal-source foods with plant-based alternatives by 2050, we could reduce land usage by 12% and halt forest loss, while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 31%. 

He also emphasised the importance of (policy) interventions to promote the availability and accessibility of sustainable diets. Lambin pinpointed three main losers from political inaction: future generations, who will bear climate collapse consequences; low-income families, as the most affordable foods are often the least nutritious; and small farmers dedicated to producing high-quality goods, facing stiff competition from intensive production methods.

In the ensuing debate the Animal Welfare Intergroup members further discussed the topic with the speakers and shared their reflections on a sustainable food system with high animal welfare at its core. While MEP Manuela Ripa stressed the high stakes and strong opposition to change, MEP Anja Hazekamp reminded her colleagues that we desperately need both the Framework for a Sustainable EU Food System and all animal welfare proposals. “I am convinced the Animal Welfare Intergroup will fight to get them on the table”, she added. 

In conclusion, the Intergroup session underscored the urgent need for a shift towards sustainable food systems. To get there, MEPs called on the European Commission to swiftly publish all four promised animal welfare proposals, as well as the Framework for a Sustainable EU Food System.