United States Mission to the European Union
Foreign Agricultural Service
United States Department Of Agriculture
Last modified: December 15, 2017


Sustainable food production

Sustainable food production and environmental issues are a growing concern among European Union (EU) consumers, industry and policymakers, impacting policy in several areas.  Sustainability includes environmental, social, and economic criteria.  The European Commission (EC)’s introduction of sustainability criteria for biofuels in 2009 triggered consumers, policy makers and industry in the EU to question why there are no such criteria on food production.  In November 2016, the European Commission presented a proposal to revise the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) which includes updated sustainability criteria for biofuels and new ones for biomass fuels.

The EU defines sustainable agriculture as production that delivers public goods and generates adequate family income, while at the same time contributes to the EU’s key environmental goals, including the protection of natural and cultural resources and the achievement of successful climate change mitigation and adaptation. According to the EC, the biggest challenge for the agricultural sector will be to balance the need for Europe to provide its share of global food supplies; to deliver long-term improvements in the environment such as biodiversity, landscape, soil, water, and air quality; and, ensure a resilience to climate change and quality of life all at the same time.  This is reflected in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that was implemented in January 2014.

There are a number of factors driving EU policy makers’ interest in sustainability. Consumer awareness of the environmental impact of products continues to grow.  Environmental groups are an important source of pressure on policy.  Producers and retailers are using sustainability certification as a marketing tool to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Many EU policy makers see sustainability certification as offering a competitive advantage to European producers.  Consequently, EU decision makers are examining measures to ensure that such claims are clear, understandable and most importantly consistent in order to allow consumers to compare similar products on sustainability criteria.

Resource efficiency 

In September 2011, the EC published the Communication Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, indicating that an approach will be established that allows Member States (MS) and the private sector to assess, display, and benchmark the environmental performance of products, services, and companies, and to provide better information on the environmental footprint of their products to prevent misleading claims and to refine labeling and foot printing schemes.  Currently, a number of initiatives are being developed at the MS level and by diverse industry groups because of consumer’s growing demand for sustainability certification.

The Resource Efficiency Roadmap is part of the Resource Efficiency Flagship of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Europe 2020 Strategy is the European Union’s growth strategy which aims at establishing a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy with high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion.

Food waste 

Another important aspect of sustainability is food waste.  The most recent estimates of European food waste levels (FUSIONS, 2016) reveal that 70% of EU food waste arises in the household, food service and retail sectors, with production and processing sectors contributing the remaining 30%.

In 2014, the EC published the Communication on Circular Economy which calls on the Commission to establish a Platform dedicated to food waste prevention. The EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste (FLW) aims to support all actors in: defining measures needed to prevent food waste; sharing best practice; and evaluating progress made over time.

Food waste is also part of the European Commission’s 2015 proposal for a Waste Framework Directive that should be adopted in 2018. This proposal aims to reduce food waste by half by 2030.

In May 2017, the European Parliament adopted an own-initiative report on “Resource efficiency: reducing food waste, improving food safety” calling on EU countries to achieve food waste cuts of 30% by 2025 and a further 50% by 2030 (compared to 2014).