Making healthy food the easier choice
Annual Conference 2022 session 4 summary
Sunday, Apr 17, 2022
During her keynote address, Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner, Health and Food Safety, European Commission, emphasised the accountability of each generation to its successors. “It is exactly for this reason that Europe simply cannot afford to make the mistake of scaling back our ambition to make our food systems, our agriculture, our food consumption more respectful to our planet,” she said in a recorded keynote address.
She set out the goals of a future EU food eco-system: making food systems more resilient, exploring new ways of involving citizens and stakeholders and introducing a sustainable food labelling framework. “Healthy people make for healthy economies and healthy societies.” The pathway ahead is clear, but for the much-needed transition to work, “we look to all stakeholders in the food chain as well as our global partners for strong involvement and engagement,” she told the Forum.
Silviu Popovici, CEO, PepsiCo Europe, speaking by remote connection, stated he was optimistic about the move towards healthier, more sustainable food because consumers, retailers, farmers and industry are all going in the same direction. He noted the company is drastically reducing the sugar content of soft drinks, working towards artificial-free products and using portion controls to nudge customers to eat less. “We are looking to transform the products we are selling to make healthier products a bigger part of our portfolio. We think that this transformation will make a massive difference in the way people eat and what they eat,” he predicted.
PepsiCo is experimenting with internalising the price of carbon to make employees aware of its cost when taking decisions. But Mr Popovici warned: “I think if you are factoring in externalities, our costs of doing business will go up and I don’t think the consumer will be ready to pay for it.”
Jack Bobo, Director, Global Food and Water Policy, the Nature Conservancy, observed that the food environment has changed considerably in recent decades. The average American now eats 20% more calories than in 1970. He called for a reshaping of that environment, so it works for, not against, healthy choices. “If we can make food taste good, people will just choose it. And more and more of the plate will become healthier and you won’t have to force people to do it. They will do it because they want to.”
He argued that the current debate should not be framed as if agriculture is the problem. Farmers have made major strides in efficiency and output. If the sector was still using 1960 techniques, “we would need one billion additional hectares of land to feed the world we have today,” adding: “I would frame it as agriculture is good and getting better, but not fast enough.”
Katrien Verbeke, CEO Let Us, helps forge links between small scale initiatives and bigger players to overcome gaps in the food system. “It is a lot about building relationships and thus building respect.” She worked on Belgium’s first urban food policy, in Ghent. It established a food council involving different voices in the food system. This was responsible for deciding the direction the city should go and how to use its budget. Cities are taking the lead in this area as they are close to their local eco-system and the wellbeing of their citizens, not making money, is their priority. She called on companies to be more purpose, rather than dollar, driven, and suggested they too should “invite your stakeholders to decide where the money goes and how it is being invested in the right way.” Katrien emphasised the power of food to create jobs and described schemes in Toronto and Ecuador to help people, particularly refugees, gain the necessary qualifications.