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The increasing urgency of sustainable food systems for improving population health was a key message of the Good Food and Good Farming joint conference on 10-11 February. Civil society groups called for greener and fairer agriculture, sustainable food systems and diets, supporting rural economies and resources, coherent markets and international trade. The public health community must make sure that their voices are present to achieve a change in food policy in Europe and to shape the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) due in 2016/2017.

Commenting on the first 18 months of the new CAP, the Commission’s representative said that European farming needs to be more equitable and greener than it has been in the past, with ’interpretative’ powers related to ’greening’ measures put in the hands of national governments. However, many challenges still remain, in particular with the new Commission taking shape and still to decide on CAP delegated acts on rural development, direct payments and market measures, leaving the end beneficiaries, farmers and society, confused.

The event, was co-organised by the Agricultural and Rural Convention 2020 (ARC2020), IFOAM EU, the European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming, and Friends of the Earth Europe with support from the European Economic and Social Committee.

Many food, farming, health and environment advocates voiced their concerns and agreed on a shared vision to work together towards a Common Food and Farming Policy. Magda Stoczkiewicz from Friends of the Earth Europe said that our current food system is unsustainable and at risk of even greater problems due to the ongoing EU-US free trade negotiations. Renate Künast, former German federal minister for Agricultural and Rural Development, commented that the Commission locks consumers and their health out of farming debates. She added that some EU Member States withdrew from a debate on what a meaningful fix of the food and farming system might mean, mainly because of the voluntary nature of changes proposed.

Patrick Holden from the Sustainable Food Trust (UK) talked about taxing farmers and food producers according to the damage or benefit to the environment, society and health through accounting for true costs of farming and consumers’ food choices. Olivier de Schutter, ex-UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, now representing the High Level Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-FOOD), highlighted diet-related NCDs and their costs to the health system, and social justice concerns. De Schutter said that the current farming system is not fit for purpose in the 21st century – the trend of producing cheap calories has become a substitute for health and social policies and this in turn has led to an epidemic of NCDs where life expectancy and poverty are correlated.

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Today’s global food system is faced with a series of challenges:
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– The interplay between socio-technical changes with a drive towards uniformity and volume
– Socio-political changes with systems shaped to follow consumer demand
– Socio-economic changes with economies of scale, subsidies and taxes supporting the processing industry whilst discounting social and health costs
– Socio-cultural changes with consumer tastes and habits driven by advertising, marketing and supply, and a loss of food culture and cooking skills.

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De Schutter’s vision for a new Food Policy for the EU would need to:
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– set clear deadlines and allocate responsibilities
– combine a shift to agroecological farming with greater support to low-income families/communities
– encourage synergies in a circular economy and with other sectors
combine different tools available to public authorities, market actors and civil society
– include elements of participation and accountability (food democracy and citizens-led initiatives).

ARC2020 has been working on the Roadmap ’Good Food-Good Farming and a living countryside’ where themes of natural commons (land, water, natural diversity, plants, animals), common knowledge in terms of research, education, health and nutrition, as well as values of solidarity, democracy, transparency and cooperation are to shape a Common Food and Farming vision for the next five years in order to make sure that public money, markets and trade provide good food for all.

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