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To Upend Failed Paradigm, Hundreds of Experts Converge in EU to Forge Blueprint for Sustainable Food System

"We need a fundamental transition to sustainable food and farming systems," says Olivier De Schutter

Farm in Belgium

A farm in Belgium. (Photo: Simon Blackley/flickr/cc)

Hundreds of food and farming experts converged in Brussels this week to flush out what they're calling a blueprint for a Common Food Policy—a set of proposals they hope will push the European Union towards a sustainable food system.

"We need a fundamental transition to sustainable food and farming systems," said Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. "We need shifts in food production, processing, retail, and consumption to occur at the same time. And we need a clear direction of travel at EU level. That is why we need a Common Food Policy."

The massive gathering was the EU Food and Farming Forum, convened by IPES-Food, which featured De Schutter as well as key figures in the movement including Carlo Petrini, president and founder of Slow Food; documentary filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin; and Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins.

Driving the need for the new framework, organizers say, are current failed policies that: ignore soil degradation; take aim at obesity while ignoring its root causes; encourage trade in carbon-intensive practices; and fail to fully support smaller farms.

The new blueprint is meant to serve as a "plan B" to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the latest version of which will be rolled out Friday. De Schutter argues that the reformed CAP is sure to fall short, while the Common Food Policy instead offers a "way to circumvent the limitations of the CAP debate and keep sight of the bigger picture: an urgently needed transition to sustainable food and farming policies."

"The main problem with the CAP is that it is still an agricultural policy in name and nature," De Schutter added, while it also fails to include input from "a wider range of actors."

That input, though, was highlighted during the forum, with various speakers calling for a new system based on high quality food, cooperation, food sovereignty, closing the gap between food producers and consumers, and valuing all stakeholders within the food system. Other speakers included local leaders talking about their municipalities' successes with food system change, and Paul McCartney even made an appearance via video to stress the environmental benefits of eating less meat.

With the forum now in the rear-view mirror, the key question now, as De Schutter asked, is What comes next?

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