KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

An overview of insights on the (un)sustainability of the international food system.

Food & Sustainability

…as government?

The reports “De Macht van het Menu” (PBL) and “Naar een voedselbeleid” (WRR) offer the government advice on how to realise their responsibility for the food system. Moreover, the government can contribute directly to sustainability, such as through sustainable procurement.

WRR: from agricultural to food policy

The challenges that the food system faces require and the rapid changes of recent decades require a shift from agricultural to food policy, according to the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR).

Because diverse values and interests exist within the food system, it is important that the government pursues a clear and unambiguous strategy, coordinates effectively between government departments, dares to contradict the food industry and lobbies sustainability issues internationally. Such responsibility includes promoting a shift from animal to vegetable products, which is difficult because price measures such as a meat tax are not popular with consumers and have not proven to be effective. The complex interrelationships of production, processing, distribution and consumption, and the new balance of power within it requires governments to make sustainability measurable throughout the food chain, and focus their policies on more than just primary production. Finally, the government plays an important role in removing legal obstacles, such as the tensions between mutual agreements and competition law.

WRR (2014), p. 139-146.

De Bakker, H. C. M., & Dagevos, H. (2010), p. 67.

PBL: fulfil a responsibility for the system

The government has a responsibility for the food system as a whole, which means that in addition to stimulating and facilitating organisations and companies it should also implement targeted interventions to accelerate the sustainable transition. They can also set a good example by establishing sustainable purchasing policies, which they have to a large extent already done. The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) further presents six focus areas:

  1.    Aim for gradually rising and ambitious targets in the food chain and facilitate using knowledge and resources
  2.    Work to build trust by acting as a reliable partner with consistent policies
  3.    Organise public debate and involvement from citizens in food production
  4.    Guarantee transparency by requiring companies to measure the sustainability of their processes and communicate the results
  5.    Encourage changes in the supply of sustainable products and promote cooperation between companies, set standards and financial incentives where necessary
  6.    Promote and influence higher sustainability standards internationally, in the EU and WTO

PBL (2013), p. 108-114.

RIVM: promoting sustainable consumer behaviour

Sustainability also requires a change in consumer behaviour. According to the National Institute of Public Health and Environment (RIVM) the government should take the role of ‘connector’, by bringing together different parties, projects and/or investors, as well as enabling a database in which initiators can post successful interventions for sustainable diets. Interventions can take place in the areas of awareness, facilitating sustainable behaviour and greening markets.

RIVM, 2015.

Zwart, M.H., Schriel, A.M., Smite, K. & van Zijverden, M. (2014), p. 24-25.

Case study: Meat Less Mondays

Meat Less Mondays is a government initiative in which catering at four ministries offer less meat one day a week. By making the meat option the exception rather than the vegetarian option, the social norm around meat is influenced, allowing catering to become more sustainable. Involving the catering staff, focusing on taste and ensuring the right presentation and perception have ensured that the initiative is a success. During the three-month pilot, up to 19% less meat was eaten, which has made consumption considerably more sustainable in terms of water use, use of feed and CO2 emissions, setting the right example for other sectors.

Food Cabinet (maart 2015), p. 5-9.