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March 2020

A sustainable food system for the European Union

Food lies at the heart of our lives. It is vital for our survival, and links us to our natural and social environment in a unique way. But our food system is unsustainable. How can we ensure future food security without treating people unfairly or leaving them behind?

Food systems have complex social, economic and ecological components, and radical transformation is needed to make them sustainable. This advice lays out the science on how that transition can happen in an inclusive, just and timely way.

The global demand for food will increase in the future. To meet this demand, it is not enough simply to increase productivity in a sustainable way. We also need to change from linear mass consumption to a more circular economy — which will mean changing our norms, habits and routines.

The evidence shows that this kind of behaviour change needs to happen collectively, not just individually. So we need joined-up governance at local, national and international levels.

Food systems also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. This can be addressed by reducing waste or directing it back into the supply chain.

A mix of different measures will be most effective. The evidence shows that taxation is one of the most effective ways to modify behaviour. Accreditation and labelling schemes can also have an impact.

Meanwhile, reform of European agriculture and fisheries policies offer great opportunities to develop resilience and sustainability.

But there is not yet enough evidence to know for sure exactly what works in practice, so the steps we take should be carefully evaluated, and trade-offs anticipated.

Scientific advice

Requested by

Delivery date

18 March 2020

Supports UN sustainable development goals

Zero hunger
Good health and wellbeing
Responsible consumption and production
Climate action
Life on land


The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors responds to the request for advice from the European Commission.

Their policy recommendations are based on the best available scientific evidence.

Sustainable Food System SO cover.jpg
Bibliographic information
Cite as
European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, (2020). Towards a sustainable food system : moving from food as a commodity to food as more of a common good : independent expert report, Publications Office.
The Scientific Opinion is written jointly by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.
Portrait of Janusz Bujnicki

Janusz Bujnicki

Portrait of Pearl Dykstra

Pearl Dykstra

Portrait of Elvira Fortunato

Elvira Fortunato

Portrait of Nicole Grobert

Nicole Grobert

Portrait of Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Portrait of Carina Keskitalo

Carina Keskitalo

Portrait of Paul Nurse

Paul Nurse



11 March 2021
Farm-to-Fork strategy should be reframed, experts argue
The EU’s Farm-to-Fork strategy "needs to be reframed" to avoid an unjustified focus on food as simply a commodity.
5 February 2021
SAPEA report contributes to European Parliament’s hearing
Key findings from the SAPEA report ‘A sustainable food system for the European Union’ were presented at a public hearing in the European Parliament by working group member Marianne Penker on 4 February. 
5 June 2020
Covid tops the agenda for new food-based webinar series
The challenges of creating a sustainable food system for Europe will be examined in a series of high-profile webinars in the second half of 2020 — including an analysis of changing consumer attitudes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 


11 February 2021
Alternative proteins, consumers and sustainability in Europe
Online event
What does the evidence tell us about consumer attitudes and perceptions towards these food technologies?
20 January 2021
The special role of chefs in a sustainable food system
Online event
In conjunction with the Chefs' Manifesto, part of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub, we hosted a special briefing on how chefs in the EU and globally can contribute to a sustainable food system.
7 December to 
9 December 2020
Global food security conference 2020
In-person event with streaming
SAPEA hosted a mini-symposium on framings of food and implications for policy, food security and sustainability. 
22 October 2020
Towards a sustainable food system: the EU's role in the global transition
Online event
Through a moderated discussion between key speakers from the UN and the SAM, this webinar explores the key recommendations made to achieve a more sustainable food system.
16 October 2020
Food policy at a time of crisis: What should the future look like?
Online event
What actions can we all take, collectively and individually, to bring about a sustainable and fair food system that is better for our health, the environment, society and the economy?
4 September 2020
The EU's Farm2Fork strategy
Online event
This webinar brought together 30 organisations participating in the work of the EU Food Policy Coalition with Dr Jeroen Candel, a member of the working group which wrote the SAPEA evidence review report.
Uncle SAM

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