Europeans prioritise taste, food safety and cost over sustainability concerns when purchasing food

December 17, 2020

Food safety


EU Farm to Fork strategy

Special Eurobarometer 505 August-September 2020

At the heart of the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy aims to develop fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food systems in the EU. To achieve that goal, the EC proposes a 50% reduction in pesticide use, 20% reduction in fertilizer use and an increase in organic production to 25% until 2030. Do these goals comply with what consumers think about sustainable food systems?

The main outcome of the new special Eurobarometer “Making our food fit for the future – Citizens’ expectations” clearly shows that Europeans prioritise taste, food safety and cost over sustainability concerns when purchasing food.

While the policy discussion and the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy around sustainable food systems are mainly about environmental sustainability consumers regard “Nutritious and healthy” as the most important characteristic of sustainable food. Little or no use of pesticides as well as affordability rank third and fourth when it comes to food characteristics perceived by consumers as sustainable.

Despite the goal of the Farm to Fork Strategy to increase organic production to 25% by 2030, consumer mention “organic” only on rank 9 as a characteristic linked to sustainable food. Also, when asked what eating healthy and sustainable involves, consumers rate eating organic food only on rank 12.

How do consumer views fit to the ambitious goals of the Farm to Fork Strategy to create a sustainable food system?

Nearly half of those surveyed say that availability of healthy, sustainable food that is affordable would help them adopt such a diet. A clear and simple “sustainability label” is also regarded as very important to be able to make respective choices and only 43% of the consumer see a role for consumers in making food systems more sustainable.

The outcome of this Eurobarometer shows that the multi-dimensional nature of sustainable food and sustainable food systems -integrating economic, social (including health) and environmental dimensions – is not generally reflected in how Europeans view sustainable food and diets.

A policy strategy that is disconnected from the general consumer perspective on sustainability risks to reduce competitiveness of the EU agri-food chain by increasing production costs with no proper back-up from market demand. As already seen in the past, public subsidies may compensate the gap in the short/medium-term but are not a sustainable solution in the long-term.

In order to avoid disruptions along the chain (from Farm to Fork), science-based and measurable criteria for sustainability are needed. These criteria need also to be followed by a better understanding and communication on sustainability towards consumers. This is the only way to ensure that all actors in the agri-food chain including the consumer can successfully create a viable, competitive and sustainable food system.