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Towards sustainable food consumption

The cover of the European Commission report Towards sustainable food consumption with illustrations of hands holding various vegetables.

This report is a follow on to The Farm to Fork strategy, announced by the European Commission in 2020, that presented a series of policy goals based on the assumption that consumers choose food through a rational and reflective process. Incorporating scientific evidence that consumer choice is actually largely influenced and restricted by food environments, this report sets out a set of recommendations for a mix of policy interventions to overcome the barriers that are preventing consumers from adopting more sustainable and healthier diets.


The report is based on an evidence review report produced by the SAPEA network of European Academies, which set up a working group of independent, international, and interdisciplinary experts who analysed and discussed the scientific evidence based on a systematic literature review on the topic of sustainable and healthy food consumption. Based on this, they offered the following four recommendations. 


Firstly, co-ordinate the adoption of a coherent mix of complementary policies that include instruments addressing incentives and disincentives, information on healthy and sustainable diets, and regulatory measures. 

  • This should combine direct measures on the food environment, such as taxes, bans and mandatory product reformulation, with softer measures such as interventions on choice architecture and nutritional profiling. The first requires no change to consumer behaviour, whilst the second aims to improve consumers’ knowledge and awareness. 
  • Develop a long-term vision on healthy sustainable diets that's shared by all supply-chain actors and make them accountable. 
  • Ensure coherence between different interventions that influence the food system and remove conflicting interventions.
  • Ensure high-level policy coordination by developing communication channels, sustained dialogues and a harmonised governance system. This means the legislative framework should not contain conflicting policies but should ensure a coherent and harmonised governance system.
  • Monitor responses to new policies by food processors and retailers in order to anticipate any unintended effects of policy interventions.


The second set of actions is designed to make healthy sustainable diets the easy and affordable choice. This is based on the evidence that people change their behaviour through information and incentives (both monetary and non-monetary). Doing this will require:

  • Identifying the optimal fiscal mechanisms to progressively introduce taxes on products whose frequent consumption is unhealthy and unsustainable. The revenue from this taxation should then be used to reduce inequalities of access to healthy food through low-income focused subsidies.
  • Make healthy and sustainable diets more affordable. The alternative to unhealthy food should be made more affordable through subsidies and reduced VAT.
  • Adjust subsidies to prevent funding for production systems with low environmental performance. 
  • Address the root cause of poor nutrition through social policies aimed at eradicating wider social inequality through preventing poverty and investing in education.


Thirdly, providing unbiased, understandable and verified information about the environment and health impacts of different foods to guide healthy sustainable decision-making. Transparency is key for both consumers and manufacturers and information must be reliable and trusted.

  • National dietary guidelines must be edited to incorporate sustainability goals. This process should be guided by an EU wide ‘best practices’ guide to inform national updates of guidelines. 
  • Set cross national EU time bound goals similar to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Member states will then have a guide to set their own ambitious national commitments in line with these EU goals.
  • Information campaigns to raise consumer awareness about health and the sustainability impacts of diets. This could be done through public marketing campaigns, labelling, scores on food packaging, advertisement, digital personalised feedback tools and education programmes.
  • Encourage more direct connection with primary food producers. Whilst local food production may not have huge impacts on environmental outcomes, it increases consumers' engagement with food production methods and food quality, and therefore has high educational value. 
  • Make better use of digital food environments to inform consumers about healthy and sustainable diets, as well as food waste.
  • Restrict the advertising of unhealthy and unsustainable products.
  • Engage with all food-system actors to give equal voices to all stakeholders and to overcome expected opposition from powerful food industry actors. There is already evidence that the meat-industry representative bodies have influenced public discourse in order to counter scientific evidence on the negative impact of meat consumption on health and the climate.


Fourthly, there should be new interventions to promote the availability and accessibility of reformulated and new products that fall in line with sustainable healthy diet guidelines. This could include:

  • Regulating the placement in retail outlets of unhealthy and healthy products to create positive food environments.
  • Mandatory product reformulation to increase the availability of healthy and sustainable food. 
  • Restricting EU imports of food commodities from countries where food production causes major environmental damage, either through taxes or through bans.





European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, Towards sustainable food consumption – Promoting healthy, affordable and sustainable food consumption choices, Publications Office of the European Union, 2023,

Find the report here and our own work on solutions to providing sustainable healthy diets

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