The Sustainable EU Food System

This initiative aims to make the EU food system sustainable and to integrate sustainability into all food-related policies.

It will lay down general principles and objectives, together with the requirements and responsibilities of all actors in the EU food system.

More specifically, it will lay down rules on:


  • sustainability labelling of food products
  • minimum criteria for sustainable public procurement of food
  • governance and monitoring.


Feedback period: 28 September 2021 - 26 October 2021



The ‘‘European Green Deal” resets the Commission’s commitment to tackling climate and environmental-related challenges. It is a growth strategy to transform the EU into a fairer and more prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050. It aims to protect, conserve and enhance the EU's natural capital, and protect the health and well-being of citizens from environment-related risks and impacts. The Commission’s response to the dramatic and unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 crisis also highlights that the recovery plan must guide and build a sustainable, more resilient and fairer Europe for the next generation.


In this context, the European Commission adopted a comprehensive Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system and the Biodiversity Strategy to bring nature back into our lives. The two strategies are mutually reinforcing, bringing together nature, farmers, business and consumers for jointly working towards a sustainable future.

More specifically, the Farm to Fork Strategy addresses comprehensively the challenges of sustainable food systems5 and recognises the inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet. It acknowledges 

that “a sustainable food system will be essential to achieve the climate, biodiversity and other environmental objectives of the Green Deal, while improving the incomes of primary producers and reinforcing the EU’s competitiveness”. The strategy is also central to the Commission’s contribution to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


The Strategy also announces a proposal for a sustainable food labelling framework to empower consumers to make sustainable food choices, which should be part of the EU level intervention.


Problem the initiative aims to tackle

Although the transition to sustainable systems has started, feeding a fast-growing world population remains a challenge with current production patterns. Food production results in air, water and soil pollution, contributes to the loss of biodiversityand climate change, and consumes excessive amounts of natural resources9, while an important part of food is wasted. At the same time, unhealthy diets contribute to obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as cancer.

Furthermore, the overall EU food system is characterised by different approaches and analyses at Union, national and sectoral levels vis-à-vis sustainability aspects. Where sustainability aspects are addressed at those different levels, they lack a common approach and are not always comprehensive. This results in divergences, inconsistencies and even some gaps, jeopardising the achievement of the European Green Deal and Sustainable Development Goals. Consequently, there is a significant risk that a number of concrete and well-known problems will persist.


In some sectoral legislations, such as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the objectives of sustainability are already the guiding principles and the transition has started at production level, but similar objectives do not yet exist for the whole food system. The Fitness Check of the General Food Law Regulation concluded in 2018 that the current legislative framework governing the Union food chain is less adequate to address sustainability in general as it is sector based and its main objectives are to ensure a high level of protection of human health and consumers’ interests in relation to food, taking account of, where appropriate, the protection of animal health and welfare, plant health and the environment as well as the effective functioning of the internal market.


While the Union food system has achieved high levels of food security, food safety and a wide consumer choice, there is currently no horizontal regulatory instrument in place at Union level, which could act as a guiding framework instrument that coordinates and drives changes across the food systems as well as an operational tool within and across its different sectors to overall improve the sustainability of the EU food system.


The following regulatory, and where applicable, market failures, are drivers of the above problems:

  • the uptake of sustainable production practices by primary producers is not linear or even across the EU, with negative impact on climate change and the environment;
  • lack of incentives (e.g. financial, research and innovation) for actors of the food system to produce/place sustainable food on the EU market;
  • due to various reasons, such as – but not limited to – the affordability of sustainable foods, consumption decisions are taken on the basis of short-term costs, disregarding long-term/real costs and impacts;
  • negative environmental and social, including health, externalities are not effectively reflected in the price or cost of foods creating market distortion favourable to unsustainable food products and related food operations;
  • lack of an overarching cross-sectoral sustainability objective and of a common understanding for Union and national measures in relation to sustainability of food and food systems on the single market;
  • insufficient reduction of food loss and waste across the food value chain, including at consumption stage;
  • insufficient allocation of cross sectoral responsibilities to the different actors of the food system for transitioning towards sustainability;
  • imperfect competition (imbalances in market power in the food chain);
  • lack of sustainability assessment for food products: the current risk analysis on food safety based on Regulation (EC) 178/200213 and other related specific legislations does not or not fully cover this aspect;
  • lack of clearly defined, commonly agreed and used requirements and synergies with sectoral legislations, e.g. the relation between food safety and sustainability of the food system;
  • insufficient transparency on sustainability aspects across the food system, including, but not limited to reliable and relevant sustainability-related information for consumers enabling them to make sustainable food choices;
  • lack of general provisions to consider sustainable food and food systems aspects in relation to exports and imports;
  • In addition, dietary behaviour influenced by various factors (social, economic, cultural etc.) can result in unsustainable purchasing decisions and consumption patterns.


    In line with the objectives of Farm to Fork Strategy, the overall objective is to ensure that all foods placed on the EU market increasingly become sustainable. This implies building a socially responsible food value chain that progressively reduces the environmental and climate footprint of the Union food system, and ultimately transform the EU food system into a positive contributor to the health of people, of the economies and of the planet. This will strengthen the food system’s resilience and ensure lasting food security in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. Food products, processes and consumption patterns need to change, while maintaining or improving high standards of human health (including food safety), plant health, animal health and welfare, as well as improving the incomes of primary producers, favouring bio-based solutions and reinforcing the EU’s competitiveness.


    In relation to these overall objectives, the following sub-objectives are to be considered:

    • to ensure an enabling environment for future policy and legislation, placing it at the heart of the Union and national decision-making processes and of the Union food system in general by raising the political and legal profile of the sustainability, including climate neutrality concepts of the food system;
    • to ensure that a favourable food environment makes it easier to choose healthy and sustainable diets providing benefits for consumers’ health and contributing to the reduction of the environmental footprint of the food system as well as attracting investments into sustainable production methods;
    • to avoid externalisation of unsustainable practices and to raise global standards, while remaining within planetary boundaries;
    • to optimise the production, distribution and consumption of food, so as to increase resource efficiency and reduce food loss and waste;
    • to address the entire food system, going beyond the linear food supply chain approach;
    • to ensure that when producing/placing food on the Union market, sustainability considerations are taken into account beyond the food safety-based considerations that already apply;
    • to ensure transparency for sustainability purposes;
    •  to ensure coherence with all EU food related policies (e.g. agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture) in terms of sustainability objectives, including biodiversity and climate objectives.


Source: European Commission

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