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The Fair Trade Advocacy Office feeds into the sustainability of the EU food system

The European Commission (EC) recently launched a public consultation on sustainable food. This will be followed by a Communication and an Action Plan.

The Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) welcomes the Commission's initiative but regrets the lack of coordination with other policy areas, which should be the starting point for a coherent approach to sustainable food. The challenges, that the current food system poses in terms of growing population, scarcity of resources and environmental degradation, need an integrated response in various policy fields such as agriculture, trade, public procurement, and consumer policies.

Any attempt to make the food system more sustainable should start by acknowledging that the current consumption and production patterns have failed to successfully integrate the three pillars of sustainability. Therefore, the sustainable food definition adopted by the EC needs to fit within an integrated model of sustainable development that makes poverty eradication and environmental sustainability interdependent. In addition, the uniqueness of food should be acknowledged in the Communication issued by the EC, as the access to food is a basic right for everyone. Therefore, the way in which food is produced should be considered from a human rights perspective. In particular, the role of small producers at the start of the production chain should be recognised because they grow 70% of the world’s food. They should receive a fair price and get a fair value across the supply chain.

However, it is not just the production patterns of food that should be rethought in order to to make the system work for smallholders. Consumers should be empowered to make the right decisions and improve the lives of small-scale farmers in the South, thereby contributing to the preservation of traditional agriculture and environmentally sound practices. In order to do this, it is essential that they are given the right information on the impact that these conditions have throughout the whole production process. Very often, the environmental impact of food products is simplified and reduced to the transport phase under the so called “food miles”[1], without assessing the environmental footprint during the whole life cycle of a product. Social and economic externalities that are not visible in the end product are ignored most of the time. Given the complexities of today’s food supply chains, consumers should be encouraged to think in terms of “fair miles” rather than “food miles”[2].

Fair Trade as defined by the signatories of the Charter of Fair Trade principles has proven to make a real difference to small farmers and workers in the South. This has been acknowledged by various European institutions, as well as by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Therefore it should be included in the future Communication on Sustainable Food as the best practice for addressing the social, economic and environmental risks associated with food production.

Further reading

On this topic the FTAO has just released a position paper titled “Fair Trade movement contribution to the European Union Sustainable Food strategy“ which is available here.

[1] Food miles is the term used for the distance that food travels from its production until it reaches the consumer and it is a way to measure greenhouse gas emissions. However, it does not capture the whole range of environmental impacts during processing, distribution and consumption.

[2] International Institute for Environment and Development and Oxfam Great Britain “Fair miles: recharting the food miles map” 2009.


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