Why it’s high time to put change on the menu

Guest Article by Irina Popescu, Food Policy Officer at the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC)

Almost every day, dire headlines govern the news: record temperatures, droughts, biodiversity loss, food inflation, record numbers of diet-related diseases, animal welfare issues uncovered…the list goes on. It turns out, all these issues are interconnected. Scientific evidence shows it’s clear that to address climate change, biodiversity loss, and rising greenhouse gas emissions, as well as improve human and animal health, we can look at one important aspect of our daily lives: the food on our plates. 

Data is clear: on average, Europeans consume too many animal-based products. Shifting to healthier and more plant-based diets can have a positive impact on health, the planet and animals. However, it is not that easy for consumers to make better food choices because often the less healthy and less sustainable option is also the more available and affordable one. There are in fact many factors that influence our food choices ranging from marketing and advertising, promotional offers, food availability and price, and even the spatial layout in supermarkets. These factors make up the ‘food environments’ that consumers navigate and even though the responsibility is often put on consumers to make better food choices, relying on individual choice is not enough. 

This is why consumer-, health- and animal welfare advocates have joined forces under the ‘Put Change on the Menu’ coalition – consisting of EPHA, BEUC (The European Consumer Organisation), and Eurogroup for Animals – to show why our food choices are just an illusion. We made it our mission to advocate for healthy and sustainable food to be the most available, affordable, promoted, and the most desirable option.  

Issues around food and farming have made it into the mainstream discourse with food inflation and farmer protests dominating the news headlines. Despite a growing political opposition to green policies in the recent months and years, latest polls show that climate change and food and agriculture issues are still a high priority for EU citizens. The overwhelming majority of EU citizens think that both their national governments and the EU, as well as business and industry, are responsible for tackling climate change.  

This is why we want food and climate policies to recognise the central role of food environments to make the healthy and sustainable choice the default one. At the same time, we also recognise that food producers, retailers and the food service and catering sectors can do a lot to support consumers in making healthier and more sustainable choices by reformulating products, and by offering healthier and more sustainable options. The EU Commission has been lagging in making a proposal for a Sustainable Food Systems Framework, which would help the EU go in that direction. So, we will keep asking for this important piece of legislation. There is a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s clear that it’s time to put change on the menu! 

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA.

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