Cost of food, the biggest concern for Europeans - new poll
Posted on 22 May 2023
Cost is becoming an increasing concern - and barrier - for European consumers to access sustainable and healthy food
According to a recent poll conducted in 11 EU countries , the cost of food has become a major source of anxiety for Europeans - even above the cost of housing - with 6 in 10 respondents citing “price” as the main obstacle to consuming sustainable food. Over three quarters of respondents believe that sustainable food should cost less or at least not more than food that is not environmentally friendly.
Giulia Riedo, Agriculture and Sustainable Food Officer, said: “Citizens would like to transition to more sustainable and healthy diets, but they simply cannot: sustainable food is limited and people cannot afford it. Our governments are using taxpayers' money to finance unsustainable food production, making our market more susceptible to external shocks and food inflation. The Commission must address the elephant in the room and tackle these issues in the upcoming EU Legislative Framework for Sustainable Food Systems.”
The EU food system is responsible for 31% of total EU greenhouse emissions and it significantly contributes to the rise of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These account for 80% of the disease burden in EU countries and are the leading causes of avoidable premature deaths.
“The price we pay for the food we eat does not really reflect its true cost. Now you can end up paying more for one kilo of organic oranges than for ultra-processed and unsustainably produced meat - that’s really shortsighted. Price should take into consideration the benefits or negative impacts that food brings to nature, the climate and to our health,” added Giulia Riedo.
In addition, a majority (75%) think that large manufacturers should bear the responsibility to ensure the food they sell is sustainably produced. Most of the respondents believe that food manufacturers and retail businesses should be obliged to reduce their GHG emissions (71%) and source a lot more food from sustainable producers (67%). When it comes to promotion, more than half (53%) believe that retailers should stop advertising their least sustainable products.
European consumers think that a good starting point to make sustainable food more accessible is public canteens, where at least half of the food served should be sustainably produced. Public food procurement, which entails the purchase of food and food-related services by government bodies for schools, hospitals, and universities rarely prioritises sustainable food consumption.
“Strengthening the sustainability criteria in public food procurement will help governments tackle malnutrition, foster local employment and sustainable food production, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste. At a time where obesity and diabetes are pressing issues and unsustainable food production turns our landscapes into deserts, our governments should lead by example. Ensuring healthy food for our children and securing the nature we all depend on should be a no brainer,” concluded Giulia Riedo.
The Commission is set to present its proposal for an EU Legislative Framework on Sustainable Food Systems in late September.
 The survey was conducted by Savanta ComRes, which interviewed 17,931 adults aged 18-65 online between 10th March and 4th April 2023 in 12 countries (Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Poland plus the UK) as part of the third wave of WWF’s Eat4Change project.
Rising food prices have squeezed the income of families across Europe.