Europeans eat healthy, sustainable diet ‘most of the time’

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Only 15% of European consumers take into account considerations of a product’s “environmental and climate impact” when buying food.

That was one of the main results of last autumn’s survey of 27,237 citizens in the 27 Member States of the EU.

The European Commission commissioned the survey, and the recently released findings will inform the Commission’s decisions on the need for more EU legislation on food labelling, nutrient profiles, sustainability in food procurement, and sustainable pesticide use, which are all in the Farm to Fork Strategy proposals in the EU’s Green Deal.

Consumers were given a list of considerations when buying food and were asked which three were most important.

Taste came out on top, rated at 45%. Next was food safety, at 42%, followed by cost at 40%.

The importance of where food comes from was rated at 34%, almost the same as nutrient content (vitamins, fibre, protein, sugar, fats).

Ratings were 20% for the shelf life of the food, 16% for minimal processing, 16% for ethics and belief (religion, animal welfare, fair payment of food producers), 15% for impact on the environment and climate (carbon footprint etc), and 9% for convenience (ease of use and preparation).

The survey was designed to measure public knowledge of current food systems, as well as uncovering citizens’ food buying and eating habits, and what they believe constitutes ‘sustainability’, and their food and nutrition concerns.

In May 2020, the Commission had published the EU Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F) for a “fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system EU”.

F2F is designed to ensure the food chain has a neutral or positive environmental impact; protect food security, nutrition and public health; and preserve the affordability of food while generating fair returns for the food supply chain.

The survey results indicate that most Europeans eat a healthy and sustainable diet most of the time, however responses varied greatly by country.

Affordability and availability of healthy, sustainable choices and clear information on food labelling emerged as the most likely factors to help Europeans have a sustainable diet.

Almost all those surveyed called for the public and private sectors to improve access to sustainable food and to provide information on food sustainability on food labels. 

Consumers said they would welcome more information on food sustainability.

The survey indicates the environmental and social aspects of food are not the high priorities for consumers which they are for the European Commission, which proposes a “sustainable food labelling framework that covers the nutritional, climate, environmental and social aspects” of food products, by 2024.

However, 88% in the survey agreed information on food sustainability should be compulsory on food labels and 85% agreed there should be a logo to help them choose healthy, sustainable foods.

The Farm to Fork Strategy proposes expansion of mandatory origin labelling. Geographical origin of food is important to more than a third of EU citizens but was the most frequent survey answer in Germany, Slovenia and Sweden, but the least frequent in the Netherlands.

A majority in the survey said a sustainable diet involves eating a variety of different foods, eating more fruit and vegetables (both 58%).

However, a majority (78%) also agreed with the survey statement that “moving to stricter sustainability standards could increase food prices, and could mean that the EU does not produce enough food to feed people (60%).

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