The report of the foresight study “Delivering on EU food safety and nutrition 2050 – future challenges and policy preparedness”, carried out by DG JRC, including the EU Policy Lab, and the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety, is now available. The study adds another perspective to already existing foresight studies which focus rather on the sufficiency aspects of food for a growing world population. However, as today’s experience already shows, neither food safety nor healthy diets can be taken for granted. As the EU policies related to food safety and quality currently undergo a check regarding their past performance (the so-called REFIT exercise), it is timely to also analyse their future ‘fitness for purpose’.
The foresight approach we used involved the in-house development of four scenarios, which were discussed and analysed in terms of challenges to food safety and nutrition and related policy options by about 70 experts from different backgrounds and affiliations in two interactive workshops.
The four scenarios represent, against the background of a growing world population and increasing pressure from climate change and natural resource scarcity, different broad avenues of possible future developments for the EU:
In the ‘Global Food’ scenario, the EU will be one of the many players in a globally networked world. Intensified global trade, a concentrated agro-food industry and innovation are elements to counter limitations due to climate change and depletion of natural resources, while lifestyles and diets in the EU are increasingly dominated by little physical activity and globally sourced, highly processed foods.
On the contrary, in ‘Regional Food’, the EU opted out of international trade agreements and moves towards a circular economy, self-sufficiency and an environmentally sustainable food system. Short food chains include urban farming and a thriving community of citizens engaging in primary production and food preparation and sharing. Food is highly valued, and diets contain less meat but are also less diverse and subject to occasional shortages of fresh produce.
In ‘Partnership Food’ an economically weak EU has lost global influence and technological know-how and faces low innovation. Close trade and policy ties with a stronger partner is seen as a possibility to gain access to technology and resources and to regain some influence at geopolitical level. A certain lack of control over the food chain and the pre-dominance of mass-produced, highly processed food characterise this scenario.
The EU is one of the globally leading, innovative economies in the ‘Pharma Food’ scenario. European multinationals dominate the production and global trade of functional food, including the newly developed pharmaceutical food or ‘phood’. Citizens strive for a healthy lifestyle. ‘Phood’ for which ingredients, such as powders of bioactive substances, can be easily purchased and which can be personalised, facilitates achieving an optimised health status.
Some important points emerged from the rich discussions of the scenarios:
The EU legislative framework for food safety is fit for the future. Overall, the general principles of EU food safety legislation cover all essential elements to ensure food safety in the future. There are areas that need to be strengthened including harmonisation and streamlining of risk assessment approaches and adaptation of official controls and inspections.
Healthy diets largely remain an issue. While overall the food safety regulatory framework seems to be robust and appropriate, healthy diets are more difficult to tackle. Scenarios indicate that a change in citizens’ attitudes to food is a necessary element for a fundamental change to the better. How to facilitate this change while providing the framework conditions for a healthy, diverse, sustainable, affordable and accessible food offer remains a challenge for governance. Measures to improve social cohesion, food values and nutrition literacy might be needed, maybe in conjunction with complementary regulatory approaches such as fiscal measures.
There will be trade-offs ahead of us. The cost of regulatory compliance in the future for food safety might become a substantial addition to the costs of food production and processing, against the background pressure of climate change and natural resource depletion. A denser global trade network and new technologies to make food production and processing more resource-efficient but also improving nutritional properties, might increase the need for and costs of food controls and complex risk assessments. A wider consideration of risks and benefits including socio-economic aspects, food availability and affordability and environmental issues might become necessary.
You can have a look at the final report with a comprehensive presentation of the scenarios and the study results.
In addition, the JRC Scenario Exploration System (SES), a platform that engages participants in future-oriented systemic thinking, is available in a Food Safety and Nutrition edition, based on the above outlined scenarios. Feel free to contact us if you want to learn more about the game or if you want to attend one of the game sessions we run in Brussels.