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Jenny van Doorn among the top European scientists that advised the EU Commission on the transition to healthier & more sustainable food consumption

28 June 2023
Professor of Services Marketing Jenny van Doorn
Professor of Services Marketing Jenny van Doorn

A working group of top scientists from across Europe, including University of Groningen (UG) professor Jenny van Doorn, have advised the European Commission on how to transform European food consumption to become healthier and more sustainable. Their recommendations consider the pricing, availability, visibility and composition of consumer foods.

The advice comes in response to a request from the College of Commissioners to the Scientific Advice Mechanism. The recommendations were handed over to the European Commission at the end of June. Jenny van Doorn, Professor of Services Marketing at UG’s Faculty of Economics and Business, contributed to the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) working group with her expertise on customer engagement, sustainability and food waste.

Addressing the whole food environment

Europe’s current food system has a major impact on the environment, and poor-quality diets are also linked to risk of disease, obesity and overweight — which affects around 60% of adults and 30% of children in European countries. While the EU has mainly focused on providing consumers with more information, the experts agree that this is not enough. People choose food based on many factors. To make sustainable, healthy food an easy and affordable choice, policies must unburden the consumer and address the whole food environment.

“In order for Europe to achieve its health and sustainability goals, the way we produce, distribute and consume food must change, and this cannot be left entirely up to the consumer. We hope our scientific advice and evidence will be the base for that”. This was the main message delivered by Professor Eric Lambin, member of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors to the European Commission.

Erik Mathijs, professor at KU Leuven and chair of the SAPEA working group: “Policies should address the whole food environment, anywhere where food is obtained, eaten, and discussed, such as shops, restaurants, homes, schools, and workplaces, and increasingly also digital media.” Because of this complexity, it is crucial to follow the scientific evidence for decision-making, he added.

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Recommendations for promoting healthy and sustainable food choices

The advisors recommend a range of evidence-based measures for promoting healthy and sustainable food choices, including:

• Pricing: There is clear evidence that direct measures are effective. This includes sugar taxes, meat taxes, and pricing products according to their environmental impacts, as well as lower taxes on healthy and sustainable alternatives.

• Availability and visibility: Healthy and sustainable food options are more frequently chosen if they are displayed in prominent places. The advertising of foods which are unhealthy or unsustainable if consumed regularly should be restricted. Voluntary codes of conduct in this area have not been effective.

• Composition: Reducing unhealthy fat, sugar, and salt content, and adding more plant-based alternatives, can be helpful — but only if these measures are mandatory and comprehensive. The evidence shows that past voluntary agreements have had limited effect.

It will be critical to create an environment that allows all stakeholders to work towards the goal of healthy and sustainable food, following fair rules. This approach may also help to overcome opposition from those who profit from the current system, including some large private sector organizations with powerful voices.

The Scientific Advice Mechanism and SAPEA

The European Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism provides independent advice on request to the College of European Commissioners to inform policymaking. For this topic, a working group of Europe’s top experts was convened by SAPEA to produce an Evidence Review Report, summarizing the current state of knowledge on food systems, sustainable and healthy diets, and consumer behavior from academia to practice and across many disciplines. Informed by this evidence, the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors published its policy recommendations on removing barriers and making it easier for consumers to follow sustainable and healthy diets.

SAPEA is a consortium of academy networks. Across these networks, it brings together outstanding expertise from natural sciences, engineering, and technology, medical, health, agricultural and social sciences, and the humanities. SAPEA draws on over a hundred academies, young academies and learned societies in more than 40 countries across Europe.

More information, like a summary of the recommendations and the evidence review report , can be found on the SAPEA website.

Last modified:29 June 2023 09.58 a.m.

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