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Healthy and sustainable diets through agricultural policy reform

News | Published  17 July 2018

Eating Better's Sue Dibb sets out the case for agricultural policy reform to support healthy and sustainable diets.


At this year’s EAT Forum in Stockholm, Eating Better was pleased to co-host a Disruptive Dialogue with our partner organisation the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) focusing on how policy – in particular agricultural policy reform – can help move us towards healthy and sustainable diets. Discussions were stimulated by presentations from Nikolai Pushkarev (European Public Health Alliance), Sue Dibb (Eating Better), David Baldock (Institute for European Environment Policy) with an invited response by Jessica Fanzo (UN Food and Agricultural Organization) and facilitated by Aileen Robertson (University College Copenhagen). 

Healthy and sustainable diets are increasingly recognised on the public policy agenda as dietary patterns that support good nutrition, as well as having a better environmental and social impact. With agricultural support worth €556 billion (£496b)/year across 51 countries, there is an opportunity to use this large-scale agricultural funding to encourage production that supports healthy and sustainable changes as part of delivering public goods for public money. Currently, various opportunities exist to reshape agricultural policy in this direction, in particular through reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the European Union (EU), post-Brexit in the UK, and globally through developing strategies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

As Eating Better’s Sue Dibb highlighted, a key element of healthy and sustainable diets is shifting the balance towards more plant-based eating and reduced consumption of animal products. A ‘less and better’ approach to meat and dairy consumption in high consuming countries can provide wins for health, environment, climate change, animal welfare, resource use and farming livelihoods. This approach also includes an equity dimension by allowing for increased consumption among people where animal products can provide valuable nutrition and help address malnutrition challenges. 

The workshop heard that one of the proposed CAP objectives is to “improve the response of EU agriculture to societal demands on food and health, including safe, nutritious and sustainable food, as well as animal welfare” which provides an opportunity to develop specific objectives and target setting for healthy and sustainable diets. This aligns with the increasingly recognised need to shift from ‘agricultural policy’, with its primary focus on production, towards ‘food policy’ with a wider focus on food and agricultural systems in order to better realise the potential for change in both areas. 

In developing next steps, the workshop identified the need to engage people, farmers and policy makers in talking to each other, including between environment, agriculture, climate and public health policy sectors, to explore win-win solutions. 

Food based dietary guidelines were recognised as providing a starting point for policy with a number of countries now integrating sustainability into their dietary guidelines. There is a need for such guidelines to underpin agriculture policy and it was suggested that FAO could consider strengthening its call on member states to support this. 

Additionally, climate change policy needs to put agriculture and animal farming centre-stage in both addressing the impacts and providing opportunities for mitigation e.g. through soils, pasture and agro-forestry. There is a lack of information on the climate impacts of various diets, as well as few nutritionists working on the linkages between nutrition and climate. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also provide an important focus and framework for healthy and sustainable diets, cutting across almost all goals. 

Looking to the future, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) & World Health Organization (WHO) will host a sustainable diets workshop in January 2019 focusing on metrics, building on the forthcoming report of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health. It was recognised that the development of appropriate tools to measure success and evaluate new policies is essential. 

Read the full report: Disruptive Dialogue Outcome Report: Leveraging Healthy and Sustainable Diets Through Agricultural Policy Reform. 

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