Dr Kelly Parsons and Professor Corinna Hawkes coin term "food systems sweetspot".

Published (Updated )

Food policy experts from City, University of London have written a major new report for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Dr Kelly Parsons and Professor Corinna Hawkes, of the Centre for Food Policy, produced the policy brief to advise on how to create food systems that improve diets while complementing efforts to protect the environment and boost prosperity.

The report coins the term “food systems sweetspot” to describe an ideal approach which takes into account policy goals for health, the environment and the economy.

Called Connecting food systems for co-benefits: how can food systems combine diet-related health with environmental and economic policy goals?, the report was commissioned by the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU.

It states: “Food systems that balance these three aspects [health, economy and environment] would involve farmers, entrepreneurs, SMEs and big businesses, generating jobs and wealth for themselves and local and national economies by producing, trading and selling a diversity of nutritious food to European citizens at affordable prices with a skilled and decently paid workforce.”

It adds this should be done using “environmentally-sustainable production methods that protect biodiversity, water, soils and air, and minimise environmental health risks, food waste and greenhouse gas emissions, with high standards of animal welfare”.

Reorientating the entire food system

The policy brief stresses the importance of using a “systems approach”, which recognises the fact that food production involves a complex set of interacting activities and processes.

Dr Parsons and Professor Hawkes say the approach has been gaining more attention in recent years because it has been acknowledged that seemingly separate policies actually work together.

The experts show how adjustments to the food system can help European countries achieve their other policy goals, although they admit this is a “highly aspirational” vision.

The policy brief states: “In practice, there are conflicts between achieving these goals. Converting these conflicts into connections that yield co-benefits will require reorienting the entire system towards a vision where health, environmental and economic goals are met in synergy.”

In the 36-page report, the City experts set out the Europe-wide problems with obesity and diet-related ill-health, outline the available evidence on the issues caused by the current food system, and show how these things are linked to areas like employment and pollution.

“The severity of the food systems challenges outlined here, in terms of both health and environmental consequences, and the economic costs of these, underline the need to think and act differently,” the policy brief concludes.

“Redesigning food systems may be a large ask, but there are specific spaces of opportunity for change. Greater cross-government and cross-sector collaboration will be crucial to this process, as well as an enabling food policy framework.”

Read the full policy brief on the Centre for Food Policy website.

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