Over half of Europeans try to eat sustainably - poll

Posted on 14 October 2021

EU Farm to Fork strategy is an opportunity to make this easier and cheaper.
Europeans want to eat more sustainably, but face barriers in doing so. According to a new survey [1], almost two in three (61%) respondents say they are likely to choose foods that are less damaging to the environment and are more sustainable, but find such options are usually more expensive, not available, not appealing or unclearly labelled. The survey commissioned as part of WWF’s Eat4Change project – also points to a worrying lack of public awareness around how our current consumption and production patterns negatively impact the environment [2].

The findings come at a critical moment for the Farm to Fork Strategy. This Thursday and Friday, the European Commission is hosting its second Farm to Fork Conference with stakeholders from across the food value chain, public authorities, as well as international and civil society organisations. The following week, the European Parliament will hold a plenary vote to confirm its position on the Farm to Fork Strategy, after it was adopted by the Agriculture and Environment committees last month.

The European Commission has faced pressure from industry groups who have claimed that the Strategy’s agricultural targets [3] will have a devastating impact on production levels, farm income and food security. These claims, however, are largely misleading and disregard the potential of the CAP strategic plans to support farmers in the transition.

Innovative market-oriented instruments can also help achieve the targets and mitigate trade-offs, as explored in a recent study commissioned by WWF and other groups.  A well-designed levy on pesticide products could trigger significant reductions in the use of harmful chemicals while generating funds to support nature-friendly agricultural practices, researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research found. 

Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer for Food and Agriculture at WWF European Policy Office, said:
“The Eat4Change findings show that Europeans want to eat better, but don’t always have the choice. The Farm to Fork Strategy is our best chance to take action at the EU level, address citizens’ concerns and put our food systems on track towards sustainability. So, instead of giving in to industry pressure, the European Parliament needs to endorse the Farm to Fork strategy, bolster its ambition and call on the EU to use all the policy levers to accelerate progress in the coming years.”

Stella Höynälänmaa, Eat4Change Project Lead at WWF-Finland, said:
“There is a clear need to raise awareness on how central the food system is in global environmental challenges. If we are to achieve food systems that protect nature while providing everyone with enough nutritious food, we need a global transition to sustainable diets. In such a transition individual choices are important. But of course, not all the responsibility can or should be on the consumer. Collaboration from all sectors is required for creating food environments [4] that support a transition to sustainable and healthy diets.” 

For more information:
Jabier Ruiz
Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture & Food Systems
WWF European Policy Office

Bartosz Brzezinski
Communications Officer
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 484 28 15 10

Notes to editors:
[1] The survey was conducted by Savanta ComRes via their online panel in April 2021. The survey was answered by 11,439 adults in nine European countries: Austria (1032), Belgium (1028), Estonia (1044), Finland (1031), France (2098), Greece (1017), Portugal (1052), Sweden (1074) and the UK (2063). The data were weighted in each country by age, gender, region and social grade to be nationally representative. All countries were weighted to be equally represented in the combined European total. The survey supports the WWF’s Eat4Change project, funded by the EU Commission. 

[2] Food production in the EU is one of the main drivers of climate change and biodiversity loss, but only one in two (52%) surveyed said that the food we produce and consume has a negative impact on the environment. In addition, Europeans aren’t aware of the links these impacts have to their personal diets. Only a third (33%) of those surveyed thought their own eating had a negative impact on the environment.

[3] EU Farm to Fork’s targets for 2030:
  • Reduce the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% and the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50%.
  • Reduce nutrient losses by at least 50%, and the use of fertilisers by at least 20%
  • Reach the objective of at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming and a significant increase in organic aquaculture.
  • Reduce by 50% overall EU sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals.
  • At least 10% of agricultural area is under high-diversity landscape features.
[4] The food environment, in a widely used definition, refers to the “physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which consumers engage with the food system to make their decisions about acquiring, preparing and consuming food”. In contrast to the consumer choice model, the ‘food environment approach’ recognises that the choices we make about food and the impacts they have are, to a significant degree, shaped by the contexts within which they are made. Following on from that, it recognises that the most effective and equitable way to change food behaviours is to change the structural factors that drive food choice. For more information, see this brief from the EU Food Policy Coalition.
Europeans want to eat more sustainably, but don’t always have the choice. The EU Farm to Fork strategy is our best chance to make it easier for them.
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